If Donald Trump does indeed steamroll his way to the Republican presidential nomination, there will be many people, institutions, and ideas to blame. But surely, one name very near the top of the list will be John Richard Kasich.
If Kasich weren't in the race, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz might be winning a lot more states. In Virginia, Trump won 35 percent, Rubio 32 percent, and Kasich 9 percent. It's not unreasonable to assume that much of Kasich's 9 percent would probably have gone to Rubio if Kasich weren't in the race, giving the Florida senator a much-needed victory. In Vermont, Rubio and Kasich's combined 49 percent would have easily beaten Trump's 33 percent. In Florida, both Rubio and Kasich are surging, and their combined total of 34 percent would put them in striking distance of Trump in a must-win state. And this is just adding numbers. Kasich dropping out and backing an anti-Trump front would change the dynamics of the race beyond simple addition. By staying in, Kasich is doing as much as anyone to ensure that Trump wins, deliberately or not.
Almost everyone agrees that Kasich has absolutely no path to the nomination. He should drop out of the race.
So why is he still running?
The official reason is that Kasich thinks he can be the nominee. He thinks he can win his home state of Ohio on March 15, already a not-sure thing, and that this will, somehow, for some reason, propel him to the nomination, either through a never-before-seen upset, or through a brokered convention this summer.
This is implausible at best.
So allow me a question: Is it possible that at this point, Kasich might actually want Trump to be the nominee? Might Kasich think that if Trump is the nominee, Kasich — a popular and moderate governor of a critical swing state — might be a very attractive running mate?
Before you scoff that no self-respecting Republican would actually want to run alongside Trump, remember that just a week ago, Chris Christie gave up his dignity to become Trump's lackey. Christie's failed presidential campaign was over, and he didn't want to go back to the boring job of being a governor. He wanted to stay in the limelight, and he figured the #TrumpTrain would go far. So he might as well join it! And by joining it early, he would get more perks. In a Trump administration, Christie is the early favorite to be attorney general.
Is it so hard to imagine Kasich flirting with a similar calculus? The longer he stays in, the more likely Trump wins. And if Trump wins, Kasich is a prime VP option — never mind his protestations that there is "zero chance" he'll be vice president, or that he'd be "the worst vice president anybody could ever imagine."
Let's explore the flip side of this coin. Why would Trump want Kasich as his running mate? Well, lots of reasons. Kasich has exactly the sort of sober, responsible-man resume that might reassure GOP voters wary of Trump's bombast. Kasich's endorsement would also help convince many in the GOP establishment and donor class that Trump is someone who they can gingerly trust. If a level-headed fellow like Kasich can get behind this guy, then maybe all Trump's bluster is just for show!
Kasich might really think he could be Trump's vice president. And from there, heck, maybe he can become president. After all, 14 VPs have gone on to become commander-in-chief.
Or maybe Kasich thinks Trump will inevitably crash and burn, but that with Kasich's reputation as a sober moderate, combined with his grassroots-delighting presence on the Trump ticket, he might unite the Trump and anti-Trump factions of the Republican Party in 2020 and make another go at the White House, this time against an unpopular President Hillary Clinton. (Okay, maybe that's delusional.)
Does this all sound crazy? Yeah, okay, maybe. But is it as crazy as the idea that Kasich is in this because he thinks he can win the nomination? I don't think so.