John Kasich’s relentlessly positive stump speeches can often feel like motivational seminars. But on a rainy Tuesday night in Georgia, the man it sounded like Kasich was trying to motivate was himself.
“Here’s what I know. I know I’m doing my best,” he told a crowd of 100 supporters who had spilled outside of the Sandy Springs City Hall that was too small to accommodate all of those who had shown up. “I’m following the purpose that I think has been laid out for me.
And to achieve that goal …” He paused briefly.
“I’m not exactly sure what the goal is.
Some might say it’s being elected president.
Maybe it’s a different goal.”
A different goal? It would be easy to understand why Kasich might need a pep talk after the intoxicating high of his second place finish in New Hampshire crashed back to reality in South Carolina last week, where Kasich finished fifth in the primary last week. As soon as Jeb Bush dropped out, the question became when Kasich would join Bush in the departure lounge.
For a nine-term member of Congress and a two-term governor of Ohio, you have to think that the only thing worse for Kasich about losing the race is to whom he’s losing — two freshman senators and Donald Trump, the anti-Kasich by nearly every measure.
Compared to Kasich’s 23 years in the House and governor’s mansion, Trump’s resume has been unmolested by public service. While Kasich revels in recounting legislative war stories to his town hall meetings, Trump scrupulously avoids nearly any detail of any policy he says he’ll implement. And while Kasich’s intimate town halls can yield moments of emotion — such as hugging a student whose stepfather had committed suicide — at Trump’s appearance in Las Vegas this past weekend, he said he’d like to punch a protester in the face (“I just want to punch him!”). And demanded, after the lights went out at an Atlanta event, that they stay off.
The reward for Trump has been considerable. He’s beating the entire field in Georgia and nearly every other Super Tuesday state, often by double digits. The reward for Kasich has been a round of questions from media and friends such as former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty about when he’s getting out “for the good of the party.”
“GOP to Kasich: Get Out,” Politico said Tuesday morning, arguing that Kasich is hurting Ted Cruz’s and Marco Rubio’s chances to consolidate the not-Trump vote. But speaking to reporters later in the day at the state Capitol, Kasich answered, “ I can win my home state. Why would I clear the decks for them? They ought to be consolidating around me.”
To reinforce the point that Kasich is staying in the race, his top adviser, John Weaver, sent a memo to lay out the governor’s path to the White House and stressing that Kasich is the best candidate to beat Hillary Clinton. “ Polling and common sense dictate that Kasich is the candidate who can win.”
Weaver’s argument would be more convincing if common sense seemed to be playing any role in Republican presidential politics in 2016. If common sense were governing the results, governors such as Kasich would be winning. If common sense were primary on voters’ minds, Kasich’s recitation of solutions for problems like prison reform and ballooning budgets, his fondness for wonk, his ideas for failing schools, his obvious humanity for people with mental illness and self-inflicted wounds — all of that would add up to a man with a real chance to be the next president.
But as Kasich said, maybe being the president isn’t the goal anymore. Maybe it can’t be the goal.
“Maybe it’s raising the bar and giving people a sense this world can be a better place. That we can be positive. That we can have solutions,,” Kasich finished. “ And maybe that’s enough.”
Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for the Daily Beast. Follow her on Twitter at @1patriciamurphy.