When John Kasich (unlike a dozen others before him) refused to drop out of the race after his cause became hopeless, it was feared that his splitting the anti-Trump vote would hand Trump a victory he could not otherwise achieve. That did not in fact happen in two key recent races: Wisconsin and New York. With or without Kasich, Cruz would still have won Wisconsin, and Trump New York. But when we compare these two results it becomes apparent that Kasich’s effect on the race is far more insidious and damaging than simply vote-splitting.
In Wisconsin, local Republican politicians — notably Governor Walker — faced squarely the reality that the anti-Trump cause could not succeed without a focal point. Energy divided is energy dissipated. Accordingly, all available local energy (organization and endorsements) was put into the Cruz campaign, and the result was unstoppable momentum. In New York, by contrast, the anti-Trump forces were divided and consequently weak. Newspaper endorsements were split between Cruz and Kasich. Momentum was dispersed and dribbled away to nothing. To be sure, Trump had the advantage of his home state, but that alone can’t account for the size of his devastating win. It was the lack of any serious countervailing force that made the difference.
Kasich splitting the vote is certainly still a danger, but the really insidious thing about his pointless and distracting presence in the race is that it makes for the kind of division and weakness seen in New York, and works against the clear focus and cohesion that produced the opposite result in Wisconsin.
Kasich’s presence is allowing some to think that they can wait and see before committing themselves. As a result, at this decisive stage a great deal of the energy that ought to be going into the decision whether Trump will or will not be the nominee is lying dormant. If all of that energy and force remains on the sidelines, the rest of the state races will look more like New York than Wisconsin. Trump will roll over the opposition and win hands down. There is a cruel paradox here. Those who won’t commit themselves now are doing so because they hope for an open convention where they can have more choices. But by sitting on their hands now those people are ensuring that there never will be an open convention: as they stand by doing nothing, Trump will roll up the 1237 delegates he needs to stop it.
At this point in the race there is only one way to get to an open convention, and that is to mobilize and focus all of the anti-Trump energy, as happened in Wisconsin. Cruz can’t possibly get to 1237 before the convention, but Trump can and will unless all those who have deep reservations about him commit their energy and resources to a unified effort right away.
The question facing Republican voters is now very simple: are the remaining races going to look like New York, where those who don’t want Trump were divided and weak? Or will those races look more like Wisconsin, where Trump’s opponents achieved tremendous momentum by coming off the sidelines and focusing their energy into a single powerful thrust? The New York and Wisconsin results tell us that the only thing that can stand up to the Trump juggernaut is one that is comparable. People who are still standing by watching to see what will happen, are giving the nomination to Trump.
Kasich’s presence works to obscure the fact that the time to choose is now: Trump or not? And if not, there can be no more hesitation about which vehicle to choose. This is true even for Kasich himself. Whatever slim chance of getting the nomination he still has is entirely dependent on the possibility of an open convention. If Kasich continues in the race not only splitting votes, but more importantly splitting the energy, resources, and endorsements that need to be focused to stop Trump, he will be throwing away any chance of the open convention that he needs. In effect, he will be handing Trump the 1237 that will shut Kasich out.
The choice is now between the realism and focused commitment of Wisconsin’s senior Republicans, and the debacle of further New York-style races as Trump rolls all over a half-paralyzed opposition from here on out. Most Republicans want someone who thinks like a Republican, and that surely can’t be a man who is for such things as single payer (that is, government run) health care, or men using girls’ bathrooms, or unconstitutional seizures of private property by inappropriate use of eminent domain. The time for debating the pros and cons of different vehicles for avoiding Trump is over. Only one is now available, and that one can’t succeed while so many of Trump’s opponents suffer from the illusion that they can still look for another.