“Get out,” Marco Rubio’s people have told John Kasich’s people for weeks.
Ted Cruz feigns graciousness: others should “prayerfully” consider “uniting” behind his own campaign—preferably, of course, before the race moves on to delegate-rich regions in which he is not a senator.
The right candidate may now be ready to make the ask—and in the right way. A memo to donors from the super PAC supporting John Kasich, New Day for America, received minimal attention last week. But that was ages ago—before Donald Trump failed Jake Tapper’s Ku Klux Klan pop-quiz, #NeverTrump blew up Twitter, Rubio imploded in primary elections in his own back yard, and the establishment finally blew a gasket.
The New Day proposal has a twist: rather than push Rubio out the door, it invites him in as Kasich’s pick for vice president. It’s an idea that pieces together the fragments of our post-Super-Tuesday world as neatly as any Republican could hope for. Donors, long-standing party regulars nationwide, and those who are anxious to block Trump and Cruz from the nomination should press Kasich to offer the deal—and for Rubio to accept it with a smile. For several reasons.
Kasich’s experience, lower negatives, and better public profile make him a strong candidate to take on Hillary Clinton in fall. But time is of the essence. In Kasich’s home state of Ohio, which is a winner-takes-all primary state, Quinnipiac shows Kasich is behind Trump by five points in Ohio—far better than the 15-20 point deficit Rubio has in Florida.
The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza already points to Ohio as the best place to deprive Trump of the 1,237 delegates he needs to clinch the nomination. In fact, things have likely improved for Kasich since that poll was conducted in mid-February.
He’s had a very confident debate and a winning “Town Hall” on CNN; his second place finishes in the Vermont and Massachusetts primaries have validated the strength of his message, even absent the media coverage afforded Trump and Rubio. His last rival governor, Jeb Bush, has quit the race. And Kasich’s ground game in Ohio is strong: it helped the governor win re-election in 86 of 88 counties, including 26% of the black vote. That machine is currently gearing up for Michigan, drawing volunteers from across the country.
The GOP leaders who couldn’t publicly contemplate a Kasich-Rubio alliance a week ago in an effort to remain impartial can now embrace it to protect the imperiled remnants of the Republican brand. The likes of Meg Whitman are organizing to defeat Trump just as pro-Kasich donors are emerging among billionaires and from the ranks of failed campaigns.
Kasich’s civility toward his fellow candidates has set the stage for a credible unity ticket. New Day’s complimentary tone toward Rubio—writing that he “could conceivably set the table for 16 years of Republican control of the White House” by starting as Kasich’s VP today—helps save face for those who made the early, panicked rush to endorse the promising, appealing, but less tested junior senator.
Also, tag-teaming against Ted Cruz represents a smartly calculated risk. Just enough Tea Party voters might bolt from Rubio to help Cruz keep on taking votes from Trump, blunting his march to the nomination. But such defections are unlikely to overwhelm the strength of a Kasich and Rubio combination across the Midwest, let alone looking ahead to the closed April primaries of the more moderate East Coast.
In announcing his departure from the contest, Ben Carson has provided another potential boost to this putative coalition. For the first time, the mild-mannered “opposition” will have the momentum while the anti-establishment vote is conspicuously split between Trump and Cruz.
Finally, a gut view: having spoken with dozens if not hundreds of Trump supporters in recent weeks, it is striking how much their economic fears and social values are similar to those of the old Reagan Democrats. It may take a Reagan-era lawmaker, the grandson of a coal miner, to make the case that the Republican Party is again a force they’ll want to join: one that bucks the system but knows how to run it; cuts taxes and regulations to create jobs; and talks straight—all while leaving the bullying, rival-trashing, and race-baiting at the door.
Presenting Kasich and Rubio as a single ticket will bolster Kasich in Michigan, insure his bid in Ohio, and restore hope to Rubio in Florida. It won’t satisfy Trump delegates who feel robbed of their still-likely one-man plurality at the convention in July. But their combined strength will offer a more credible challenge than any individual candidate, and project a clear message to voters in the fall.
There’s a reason that on Super Tuesday itself—two weeks before Ohio votes—Trump was campaigning in Columbus: it’s his kryptonite. And as media attention turns to the Midwest with a much smaller field of candidates to consider, the rest of the country will take notice of the last governor standing. It would be good to see Rubio, as convincing a VP choice as any, by his side.
Jonathan Funke is a consultant and writer who has volunteered for Kasich for America in three states.