It’s really hard to deny now that, believe it or not, Donald Trump may be unstoppable in his march to the Republican presidential nomination.
Ohio’s governor, John Kasich, one of the five GOP contenders still standing, doesn’t think so, but it is really very hard to see the narrow path Kasich will have to trod to supplant Trump when the Republicans meet in Cleveland in July for their presidential nominating convention.
Last year, Trump seemed like a joke, a sideshow to the main event, to many, but now, with Trump having won all the primaries so far and seemingly poised to do extremely well in Tuesday’s 12-state Super Tuesday primaries, no one’s laughing anymore.
Can Kasich – or Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz – stomp the Trump steam-roller at this point?
“Possibly, but, honestly, I just don’t see it happening,’’ said Mack Mariani, associate professor and political science chair at Xavier University. “It’s going to be extraordinarily difficult to stop him.”
It has turned out, Mariani said, that “Trump’s ceiling is a lot higher than anybody imagine.”
Thursday night, the five GOP candidates met on stage in Houston for the final debate before Tuesday’s Super Tuesday primaries, including Cruz’s home state of Texas.
The CNN debate was pretty much a disaster, with much of the time spent with Trump, Cruz, and Marco Rubio of Florida hollering at each other – to the point where the poor person who was doing the closed-captioning at several points had to put on the screen the words Un-intelligible yelling.
Kasich did what Kasich has done in every televised debate so far – try to play the role of the adult in the room, shaking his head in disbelief at the hollering and using his time to talk about policy and his standard campaign argument that he is the only candidate who has the experience and record to serve as president.
Poor Ben Carson, who is still in the race for some unknown reason, didn’t have a whole lot to say. At one point, he sort of plaintively piped up and asked “will someone attack me” so he could get a chance to talk.
Late Thursday night, at the conclusion of the debate, Kasich’s campaign put out a memo from campaign manager Beth Hansen making the argument that Kasich is the only candidate who can (A) stop Trump from being the nominee and (B) be a lock to win the key swing state of Ohio in the general election.
Rubio, Hansen said, is not in a position to get it done. In fact, she said, it is doubtful he will even win his home state of Florida on March 15, the same day Ohio holds its primary.
“Senator Rubio, who has said Florida is a must-win state for him, trails Donald Trump there by 16 percentage points,’’ Hansen said, referring a poll of Florida Republicans by Quinnipiac University last week.
Cruz and Rubio, Hansen wrote, need major wins on March 1 and March 5 “to justify staying in the race, while Governor Kasich only sees a political map that increasingly shifts his way.”
Hansen said the Kasich campaign expects to pick up “some delegates” on Super Tuesday and will focus its efforts on Michigan with a week-long bus tour.
“After that, it’s on to Ohio and other Midwestern states where we expect to do well,’’ Hansen said. “The governor’s strategy since his announcement in July has been to build steadily and incrementally, with a broad footprint and a positive message. With our increasingly strong support and endorsements, that strategy is succeeding.”
Well, maybe so. And maybe not. Quinnipiac also did a poll of Ohio GOP voters last week that indicated there is no guarantee that Kasich will win Ohio’s 66 delegates in the winner-take-all primary.
It showed him five percentage points behind front-runner Trump, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.
Some national political observers agree, at least in part, with Hansen’s analysis.
On Thursday, Tom Bevan, the executive editor of RealClearPolitics wrote on that influential website that Kasich has an opportunity on March 15 to prove that he is the most electable of the GOP candidates.
“Imagine we wake up on Wednesday morning, March 16, to find that Sen. Rubio has lost Florida to Trump, while Gov. Kasich has beaten Trump in Ohio,’’ Bevan wrote. “If that happens, how do Rubio’s supporters, which include much of the existing GOP officialdom, make the case that Kasich should defer to Rubio? Why wouldn’t the logical argument be the other way around?”
The Rubio campaign was busy last week trying to refute any argument that the Florida senator would lose his home state.
Todd Harris, an adviser to the Rubio campaign, tweeted this out last week: “Media needs to chill. The FL Q(uinnipiac) poll #’s are way wrong. We’re going to win Florida. Period. Take it to the bank.”
Mariani said there are no guarantees that either Kasich or Rubio is going to win his home state.
“The question is not going to be how did you do in your home state; the question is going to be, how well can you do between now and March 15,’’ Mariani said.
If Cruz falters in the Super Tuesday states – although polling shows him with a lead in his home state of Texas at least – he may have to pack it up and go home. And if Cruz has to drop out, where would his voters go, including the large number of evangelical Christians and social conservatives who back him?
Probably to Trump.
“Kasich can’t go for nearly 20 days not winning anything and just waiting for Ohio to come along,’’ Mariani said. “By that time, it may already be too late.
“I understand the argument Kasich is making about being the only alternative to Trump, but I’m not convinced,’’ Mariani said. “There’s a slim chance. Very slim. But, after March 15, it may not matter. Trump could have it locked down by then.”