He needn’t feel bad about it; he should be proud in putting decency, principle and conservative policy above rank partisanship. He refuses, as so many intellectually spineless conservatives are doing, to rationalize accepting an unacceptable candidate who has shown zero desire to learn or to stick to any consistent message.
Kasich is wrong about one thing. He says House and Senate leaders don’t care what he thinks. That may have been true a few weeks ago, but since then we have seen Trump’s attack on Judge Gonzalo Curiel and his unhinged reaction to the Orlando massacre. Moreover, we have seen Trump begin his polling decline. If Kasich starts a trend — and 2020 contenders certainly should watch his example of actual leadership — then both House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will care very much.
Beyond his current statement, Kasich would be wise to go back to a notion that at the time was not plausible: Winning the nomination at the convention. He did not actually need to stay in the race any more than Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) did. What matters is that he has some delegates and as good a chance as any to become the alternative if a Dump Trump movement gets liftoff.
As we suggested earlier, a simple declaration of his willingness to step up if the delegates dump Trump plus a plea for delegates to be allowed to vote their conscience should suffice to get things rolling. Once he does that, other 2016 contenders may want to join. After all, who wouldn’t want to accept a nomination IF the delegates dumped Trump?
Kasich did not get out of the race after failing to win post-Ohio primary contests, leaving some Republicans (especially on the Cruz team) miffed that he divided the not-Trump vote. In all fairness, Cruz showed no ability to attract the moderate voters Kasich had, so it is not by any means certain that his earlier exit would have led to a different result in the primary. His mistake perhaps was in failing to recognize that simply by husbanding his existing delegates he could maintain his viability at the convention. Now he can act as the party’s lifeline, dredging up the polling showing that he’d crush Clinton.
Cruz is certainly in an even stronger position to do the same as Kasich. Cruz made the misjudgment of coddling Trump for too long during the primary. His mistake was in thinking he needed to fawn over Trump in order to later inherit Trump’s voters. He could have been quiet or mildly critical rather than gushy, thereby making his later anti-Trump rhetoric more credible. In any case, his own ideological rigidity never made him an attractive figure for Trump voters. At the convention, however, he’d have a credible pitch that he was the “runner-up” and thus deserving of the nomination if Trump fell out. In his favor, Cruz could argue, is his superb campaign operation and ground game that are ready to reignite if the nomination fell into his lap.
And frankly, if Cruz and Kasich could see the forest for the trees, they’d realize that collectively they won more than 700 delegates and would make for a balanced ticket. They can flip for who goes in the No. 1 slot.