WAUWATOSA, Wis. — A chorus of Republicans, from hard-core supporters of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) to nervous establishment figures like Mitt Romney, is telling Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) to stop campaigning and let voters consolidate behind a single Not-Trump candidate.
Kasich's response: Thanks, but you don't know what you're talking about.
"When we get to Pennsylvania, we get to New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island — let me tell ya, if I drop out, Donald Trump is absolutely going to be the nominee," Kasich said after a town hall in the suburbs of Milwaukee. "I'm not out here to stop Donald Trump, but I can tell you the reality of it. I don't believe Sen. Cruz can come to the east and win. I mean, if you take a look at what we've done so far, in Vermont I almost won. In Massachusetts I finished second. In Ohio I won by 11 points. In Michigan there was a lot of early voting, just like there was in Arizona, by the way. But with the late deciders, I won overwhelmingly."
That reference to Arizona, where Kasich ended up with fewer votes than ex-candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), was the only mention of Tuesday's delegate wipeout. Despite spending two days campaigning in Utah, Kasich failed to drive Cruz below the 50 percent threshold that would have split the state's 40 delegates. The result was in line with the few public polls, but it was bolstered when Romney told voters to back Cruz, not Kasich, in Utah and every following contest — just a week after Romney had campaigned for Kasich in Ohio. And it was the latest talking point in Cruz's campaign to brand Kasich a "spoiler" who could only nominate Trump.
At the town hall itself, Kasich fielded several questions from voters who described themselves as liberals, or as disgusted by the tone of the campaign. One worried that "this bozo Trump" would win a divided Republican contest.
"Boy, I wish I hadn't called on you," Kasich said jokingly. "Nobody's going to go to the convention with enough delegates. And we're going to have a convention."
Speaking to reporters, Kasich cited specific polling data — "the latest Quinnipiac poll has me beating Hillary by, I think, eight points" — to argue that delegates to the Republican convention would see him as the only electable candidate. "The finance people kind of look at the race, and say you're the one guy who could get the job done," he said.
Asked if Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush were hurting his case to East Coast voters by saying only Cruz could win, Kasich laughed.
"I don't know how they're calculating [that]," Kasich said. "He hasn't been able to do well in those states. I don't believe that, okay? Look, there's one thing we all have, okay? Opinions and elbows. I've got my opinion, they've got their opinions. I can tell you this. If I'd have gotten out before Ohio, who do you think would have won Ohio? It would have been Trump."
But Kasich only briefly addressed the problem he may face before the April 26 East Coast primaries. While no pollster has looked at Wisconsin since Rubio quit the race, the state assigns delegates to the winner of the statewide vote and the winner in its eight congressional districts. In Michigan, Kasich won just one congressional district, despite Cruz's relative lack of effort in the state. In Wisconsin, Cruz is making a play for every part of the state, starting with a Wednesday event just miles away from Kasich's town hall. Without a strong performance in Wisconsin, or in New York's primary two weeks later, Kasich may enter the states most demographically favorable to him with a string of losses and an ornery Republican establishment calling for him to quit.
"We're gonna do fine here," Kasich said obliquely. "I'm not gonna predict we're gonna win here."