John Kasich is not going to win the Republican nomination. That's obvious to the point of not needing to be fleshed out. He's done well in the moderate confines of New England, with second-place finishes in Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire, but that's about it.
Kasich is also not why Donald Trump is on the verge of winning the Republican nomination. Trump is on the verge of the nomination because of voter frustration with Washington and a Republican Party that's spent years failing to address the concerns of its base. When sitting House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) lost his primary in 2014, conservative media put the blame on his immigration stance, and the establishment blamed his failure to spend much time in his home district. Trump suggests that both were true: People are mad about failures on policy and a lack of elected officials caring about it. Donald Trump is on the verge of the Republican nomination -- words I, too, never expected to type -- because he has run a campaign that a seasoned Washington veteran couldn't.
This seems almost blindingly obvious at this point. Some in the establishment are coming to terms with this, trying to figure out how to co-opt or redirect Trump toward more positive ends. Others -- most others -- refuse to accept it, refuse to accept that he can be the nominee. And to try to keep that from happening, they're pulling all the levers they can see around them, most of which proved to be broken months ago. And one of the last big remaining levers is labeled "John Kasich."
We noted last week that Kasich wasn't costing Marco Rubio the nomination. We can re-assess that in light of Super Tuesday.
Take this tweet.
Hard to argue Rubio and Kasich aren't taking from the same pool. pic.twitter.com/5p9ZQSu91x
— #NeverTrump (@PatrickRuffini) March 2, 2016
It is hard to argue that, indeed. It is also hard to argue that it made much of a difference. The current vote totals in Massachusetts, with nearly all votes counted, have Trump at 49 percent, Kasich in second with 18.1 percent and Rubio in third with 17.9 percent.
Here is a math lesson: 18.1 plus 17.9 equals 36, and 36 is less than 49. If Kasich had dropped out and if every single one of his voters had gone to Rubio, Rubio would have come in second.
But, sure. These votes aren't really about votes; they're about delegates. Under Massachusetts' allocation rules, Trump got 22 delegates last night to Kasich's 8 and Rubio's 8. If a fused Kasubio candidate had run instead, he would have gotten 16 delegates -- putting Rubio's total at 95 instead of 87. That's only 66 delegates back ... from Ted Cruz, who's in second overall.
Kasich almost certainly cost Rubio the Virginia win.
— Chris Stirewalt (@ChrisStirewalt) March 2, 2016
Probably true! In Virginia, Rubio's at 31.9, just about three points behind Trump's 34.7. Kasich got 9.4 percent of the vote in the state. If every Kasich voter had backed Rubio instead, Rubio would have 41.3 percent to Trump's 34.7.
It's worth a quick aside to note that not every Kasich supporter would back Rubio. That's not how it works. If that were how it worked, Rubio would be doing much better anyway, because he'd have absorbed all of the support from the previous establishment candidates that dropped out. He hasn't. Some Kasich supporters will go to Cruz or Trump for reasons that defy easy explanation -- but it would happen anyway.
Okay. So Kasich cost Rubio Virginia. And if Rubio had gotten that 41.3 percent of the vote, he'd have gotten -- wait for it -- four more delegates.
(Perhaps there was an intangible benefit to Rubio coming from behind and winning Virginia, one that would bear psychic effects over the long term. Maybe! But that's pretty hard to evaluate?)
The reason that Massachusetts and Virginia were ones in which Rubio and Kasich might have made more of a difference, of course, is that they're more moderate states anyway. Rubio couldn't close the deal in moderate Massachusetts even with all of Kasich's support lumped in; how's he going to close the deal regardless in a state like Texas? The answer: He wasn't. A lack of Kasich may have gotten Rubio over the 20 percent threshold margin in Texas -- though that's a bigger maybe -- but he wasn't going to catapult him into the race for congressional district delegates.
Rubio's problem is that he is selling something that a lot of Republicans want to buy. Adding another salesman to that effort isn't going to increase revenue.
John Kasich might want to drop out, admittedly, because this whole thing is mostly a waste of his time and money. But he should not drop out simply because the establishment thinks he's an obstacle to Rubio. The obstacle to Rubio is the establishment itself, and blaming Kasich is simply a way of not having to blame themselves.