MONROE, Mich. — Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio), who is counting on this month's Midwestern primaries to catch up in the race for delegates, told reporters on Monday that he would not necessarily need to build a delegate lead to win the Republican presidential nomination at the convention.
"In order to be the nominee, you have to have a certain number of votes," Kasich said. "Not like, a plurality. You’ve got to have a certain number. You know, it’s like anything else in life, there’s certain rules. You take a driving test, you don’t pass the driving test, you don’t get your license. It’s not like, well, that’s good enough for government. You’ve got to win. You don’t just say, 'Well, I have more than anybody else, therefore I’m in.' "
Kasich, who later declined a chance to criticize Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), was debating him in absentia. After a Friday speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and in a Sunday interview with CBS News' John Dickerson, Cruz derided the idea of a "brokered convention" and said any nominee had to beat Donald Trump and win an outright delegate majority — the votes of at least 1,237 delegates heading to Kasich's own Cleveland.
Cruz, whose hopes of an early delegate lead were undercut by Trump's surprising strength in the South, was 937 short of a majority. Kasich, who would need to win 1,200 of the remaining 1,585 delegates to hit that mark, would not say that he even needed a plurality of delegates to compete for the nomination. He would count on a "fair process" to produce a nominee.
"The delegates will be smart, and they’ll figure it out," Kasich said. "I was at a convention where Ronald Reagan challenged Gerald Ford. Ford won and the party was unified. But, you know, to say – I have more than you, therefore I should get it? Go out and earn it! Don’t be whining about how it’s gonna work. Go get what you need to be the legitimate winner!"
The subtext, which would change after tomorrow's votes in Michigan, Mississippi and Idaho, is that several candidates may arrive in Cleveland, and the winner of a plurality of delegates might be unacceptable to the party establishment. Were Kasich to start winning March 15, he might be able to argue that the voters in the first primaries made an error that voters in later states corrected.
"I'm starting at least to have my voice heard without having to be insulting to anyone else," Kasich said.