Opinion

John Kasich's Finest Hour

By depriving Trump of Ohio's 66 delegates, he may have saved his party

Ohio Gov. John Kasich in Berea, Ohio, after winning his state's primary. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

"O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"  He chortled in his joy.                               --Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll

John Kasich's political resume dates back to the Carter administration. But his solid victory over Donald Trump in the winner-take-all Ohio primary may have been the most important triumph of his career, overshadowing even his two victories as governor.

On a night when Marco Rubio's presidential dreams died in the fever swamps of Florida, Kasich and Ohio GOP voters struck a major blow on behalf of the rational wing of the Republican Party. More than that, by winning all of Ohio's 66 delegates, Kasich may have prevented Trump from ever becoming the Republican nominee.

Had Trump swept both Florida and Ohio, it would have prompted a wailing chorus of establishment Republicans all but conceding their party to the bilious billionaire. Only right-wing firebrand Ted Cruz, sometimes described as the most hated man in the Senate, would have remained between Trump and the nomination.

But Ohio, a state with no history of embracing demagogues, stood firm behind Kasich. And by depriving Trump of both those 66 delegates and a symbolic chunk of the Midwest on the political map, Kasich may have saved his party and kept alive his own hopes of winning the presidential nomination.

With Cruz also nipping at Trump's heels in Missouri, the Ides of March appeared to have slowed the march to madness in the Republican Party. When all the delegates are tallied from the five states that voted on Tuesday, the arithmetic may point to a likely conclusion -- Trump and his pique have peaked.

Suddenly, the odds are reasonable that Trump will have not won a 1,237-delegate majority by the time the major primaries end in California and New Jersey on June 7. And for all the coming talk of deferring to the will of the primary voters, the Republicans are not going to bequeath Trump -- a 21st century hate-monger -- with a nomination that he has failed to earn by winning a majority.

The only way that Trump would have gotten the nomination would have been by bludgeoning the GOP into submission with an undeniable delegate majority. But suddenly the most plausible scenario is a contested convention in Cleveland -- the first GOP floor fight since Ronald Reagan scrapped with Jerry Ford for every last delegate in 1976.

Maybe a better model for the Cleveland Convention would be 1968 -- when Nelson Rockefeller on the left and Reagan on the right tried to pluck off enough delegates to deprive Richard Nixon a first-ballot nomination. And their pincer strategy almost worked.

In his first appearance on primary night television as a winner, Kasich pledged, "We're going all the way to Cleveland." And just like that, the Ohio governor -- the tortoise long overshadowed by flashy hares named Rubio and Bush -- has a plausible path to the nomination.

As the host governor in Cleveland and as the last mainstream Republican standing, Kasich will have a compelling message to the delegates: I am the only candidate who can run a strong race against Hillary Clinton.

It may not work out that way since Cruz (running as the Barry Goldwater of 2016) also will have a strong claim on the nomination. But Kasich and Cruz combined -- augmented by Rubio's and uncommitted delegates -- will most likely have the votes in Cleveland to prevent Trump from mounting a hostile takeover of the GOP.

And the Republicans and the nation will owe it all to Ohio.

In winning the primary, Kasich ran an idiosyncratic campaign. Even Kasich's final rally Monday night in his hometown of Westerville -- with Mitt Romney at his side -- was a friendly, but curiously listless, affair. The only sustained applause came when Kasich uttered what has become his signature line, "I will not take the low road to the highest office in the land."

But Kasich also benefitted from the backing of the Ohio Republican Party, which endorsed a presidential candidate for the first time since it went with Cincinnati's Robert Taft against Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. Tactics like sending slate cards with Kasich's name at the top to everyone who requested a GOP absentee ballot helped in the drive to fend off Trump.

A single primary will not, by itself, end the Trump contagion that has seized the Republican Party. But Ohio does give Republicans who are embarrassed by Trump, who are horrified by Trump, who cannot believe what has happened to their party, a chance to regroup.

And they owe it all to a candidate whom most pundits dismissed, who was a lonely end at most primary debates. Whatever happens from here, this was John Kasich's finest hour.

                                                         

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