The New York Times has a lengthy pre-mortem on the 2016 Republican establishment and its efforts to figure out which kitchen sink they toss onto the tracks might be the one that will derail the Donald Trump freight train.
In the piece is an argument that's become common since Nevada: Ohio Gov. John Kasich is enabling a Trump nomination by not dropping out and throwing his support behind the establishment candidate who, by a literal process of elimination, is Sen. Marco Rubio. "Several senior Republicans, including Mr. Romney," the Times reports, "have made direct appeals to Mr. Kasich to gauge his willingness to stand down and allow the party to unify behind another candidate."
Let us dispel with this notion that Kasich backing Rubio would solve the party's Trump problem.
So far, there have been four Republican primaries and caucuses, with a gradually dwindling number of candidates. They are four broadly different states, with broadly different electorates and relationships to the candidates. But it's worth looking at how the vote in each broke down.
On those pie charts, red slices are the outsider candidates: Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. Polling shows that those three have pretty consistently shared an overlapping base of support, but it's not uniform. The yellow slices are the surviving "establishment" candidates, the ones who generally enjoy the stamp of approval/scarlet letter of being backed by GOP insiders. The blue slices are all the establishment bodies by the road side.
Nevada's a bit anomalous, but notice the pattern. As establishment types have dropped out, the share of the vote from the anti-establishment candidates has grown. New Hampshire -- the most establishment-friendly state to date -- was about evenly split between the two groups.
But notice, too what happens when you add Kasich's slice to Rubio's in each contest.
In Iowa, it was enough to beat Trump. It wasn't anywhere else.
These, again, are four very different states. But as we noted earlier this week, the same argument holds true in Florida, an absolute must-win for Rubio.
Here's Florida, according to a Quinnipiac poll released on Thursday.
Rubio plus Kasich is 35. Trump is 44.
The critical factor, here, is that this is after Jeb Bush dropped out. This argument that the establishment candidates need to unify behind one candidate pre-dates Kasich, of course. It began, really, when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker dropped out last fall. Theoretically, Bush dropping out would unify his support behind Rubio. Rubio definitely gained -- but it wasn't enough.
Candidates who drop out give 100 percent of their personal support to another candidate. But voters are not sheep being herded by wily candidate-sheepdogs. They like different people for different reasons. Some Bush voters undoubtedly now support Donald Trump. Why? A thousand different, unpredictable reasons. Some, too, went to Kasich.
People who have to drop out or who are asked to drop out have small bases of support, by definition. You don't drop out if you're winning. So even if Kasich's support moved en masse to Rubio, it still doesn't get him past Trump, even in his home state, much less over 50 percent. And as other, more popular candidates drop out -- meaning Cruz (if he loses Texas) or Carson (if reality sinks in) -- Rubio isn't going to grab 100 percent of that support, either. As we noted on Thursday, there are a lot of people who say they'd never back Trump, but well over 50 percent who don't say that.
So why is there all this pressure on Kasich to bow out? I have a theory that's not terribly generous, but which I still think is accurate. Pressuring Kasich to drop out is something to do. It lets the establishment-types point the finger at someone besides themselves for Trump's ascent and continued strength. It gives them a scapegoat, at least for now, a Guy Who Could Fix All This But Won't So, Hey, What're Ya Gonna Do. It's the guy who stands behind his friend shouting "DON'T HOLD ME BACK" instead of joining the fight, because he has no real idea how to fight anyway.
Kasich isn't going to win the nomination. But he also isn't why Trump might.