Republicans, you have one last chance.
Following his fourth-place finish in South Carolina, former Florida governor Jeb Bush ended his campaign for the White House, diminishing the hope among Republicans seeking a tolerable alternative to Donald Trump. On a night in which Nevada Democrats helped the chances of their more pragmatic candidate, Hillary Clinton, the GOP found itself with just one even-keeled option left in the race.
And, no, it is not Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whose narrow second-place finish in South Carolina sets him up to be the choice among many Republican donors and establishment types. It is Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R). Kasich, to be clear, is no moderate. He believes as passionately as anyone in GOP fiscal dogma, promising big tax cuts, big spending cuts, a balanced budget, regulatory rollback and no funding for Planned Parenthood. He carries a national debt ticker around with him, displaying it on campaign stops. He also talks religion easily and frequently. But his campaign message often boils down to: Come on, guys, let’s be reasonable. “You’re an American before you’re a Republican, before you’re a Democrat,” he likes to say, blaming partisanship for many of the nation’s problems.
Rubio, on the other hand, has run on an extreme and uncharitable critique of Barack Obama, insisting that the sitting president of the United States has purposely weakened the country. His position on abortion is “practically never”. And he has abandoned his previously reasonable stance on immigration. Rubio constantly references his youth, arguing that he represents a generational shift in conservative leadership. Yet he usually seems to be trying desperately to prove that he is as shrill as the next candidate. In the past Rubio showed flashes of willingness to cooperate with Democrats, as any Republican president must, which is part of what makes him more appealing than Trump or Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). But he has run an eye-rollingly strident presidential campaign.
It’s true: Kasich does not have much of a shot. He places all his hopes in running up big wins in the Midwest. If he does not score well in Michigan’s March 8 primary, a contest he mentioned reverently on Saturday night, his campaign will likely be over. In effect, the GOP race is probably down to three: Trump, Cruz and Rubio.
But, Republicans, consider what is happening to your party: Donald Trump is your frontrunner, and there is only one reality-hardened governor left in the race to lead the GOP.