Kasich quest angering GOP

A broad cross-section of the GOP is frustrated by what they view as John Kasich’s quixotic quest for the GOP presidential nomination. 

 
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“It’s a vanity effort run by a delusional candidate,” said Ryan Williams, a spokesman for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign. “This is not a campaign run by self-aware people who understand what’s happening in the Republican Party or how math works.”

Kasich has been eliminated from winning the nomination outright. Even if he wins every remaining delegate, he’d still fall short of the 1,237 needed to secure the nomination. 

Nonetheless, the Ohio governor is unapologetically soldiering on in hopes of scooping up enough delegates to block Trump from hitting that magic number.

Kasich’s campaign argues that he’s better positioned than Cruz to do well in upcoming contests in the Northeast, the Midwest and in states along the Pacific Coast.

And if the anti-Trump forces can marshal enough delegates to keep the front-runner from a majority, it would force a contested convention, where Kasich’s supporters believe they’ll have a compelling argument to make to the delegates who would decide the nomination.

Several recent polls show that Kasich is the only candidate still in the race who would defeat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrat Katie Porter unseats GOP's Mimi Walters Former Facebook security chief: 'I failed to prepare my employer' on Russian disinformation Rand Paul: Facebook must 'convince conservatives they're not the enemy' MORE in a head-to-head contest.

“Let them consolidate behind me, because frankly, I'm the one that can win in the fall,” Kasich said Sunday on “Meet the Press.”

But after 33 GOP primary contests, Kasich has so far only proven able to win in his home state of Ohio.

Last week, Kasich finished more than 50 points behind Cruz at the Utah caucuses. On the same day in Arizona, Kasich finished in fourth place out of three -- taking fewer votes than Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRubio defends '3 point kick' analogy: 'You think everyone who follows politics knows what a field goal is?' Lawmakers to introduce bipartisan bill targeting China's treatment of Muslims Rubio cites Bible verse amid recount criticisms: ‘You cannot count what is not there’ MORE, who had dropped out of the race a week earlier.

“Kasich's performance on Western Tuesday would have been enough to embarrass any lesser mortal out of the race,” National Review editor Rich Lowry, who has endorsed Cruz for president, wrote in a scathing editorial calling for Kasich to drop out.

Trump now leads the race with 739 delegates, followed by Cruz at 465, and Kasich a distant third place with 143. Nearly half of Kasich’s delegates come from his home state.

Key establishment figures like Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: Trump’s new AG has ‘concerns’ about criminal justice bill Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Border deployment 'peaked' at 5,800 troops | Trump sanctions 17 Saudis over Khashoggi killing | Senators offer bill to press Trump on Saudis | Paul effort to block Bahrain arms sale fails Senators introduce Trump-backed criminal justice bill MORE, meanwhile, have advocated on behalf of Cruz, who they believe has a better shot at stopping Trump.

Frank Cannon, president of the conservative group American Principles Project, which has not endorsed a candidate, said that if Kasich emerges as the nominee at a contested convention it would be tantamount to a declaration of war against the party’s base.

“It’s unseemly for him to continue running when he has no path to victory other than a contested convention,” said Cannon. “He’s an institutional, traditional Republican insider-type who represents exactly what the voters are rejecting this election cycle.”

Meanwhile, Cruz supporters see Kasich’s campaign as a direct affront to their candidate.

Cruz would have to take more than 80 percent of the delegates still available to win before the convention – a highly improbable feat.

But the Texas senator’s campaign is still hopeful it can consolidate the anti-Trump vote, and believes Kasich’s ongoing presence in the race makes that a more difficult task for them.

“He’s now a spoiler,” Rep. Matt SalmonMatthew (Matt) James SalmonArizona voters like Kyl but few think he'll stick around Former Sen. Jon Kyl to replace McCain in Senate Arizona governor faces pressure over McCain replacement MORE, who first endorsed Rubio and now backs Cruz, told The Hill.

Cruz’s supporters worry that Kasich will cut into the Texas senator's support at next Tuesday’s election in Wisconsin, where 42 delegates are up for grabs. The two most recent polls show Cruz slightly edging Trump there, while Kasich runs a distant third.

But despite his low polling numbers, Kasich opened two offices in the state last week and is hunkering down for a week of campaigning there.

The fiscally conservative group Club for Growth, which backed Cruz with its first-ever GOP presidential primary endorsement last week, has booked $1 million in TV ads in the state warning that “a vote for Kasich actually helps Trump by dividing the opposition.”

That’s a sentiment held by others.

“Cruz has a real shot at beating Trump in every Congressional district in Wisconsin,” said Katie Packer Gage, who founded a PAC with the sole aim of stopping Trump. “Would I rather see Kasich focus elsewhere? Yes. But I’ll let them come up with their own strategy.”

Kasich campaign spokesman Mike Schrimpf told The Hill that the campaign has identified several Congressional districts in Wisconsin where Kasich can do better than Cruz or Trump.

He also pointed to a recent poll from Pennsylvania that shows Kasich trouncing Cruz and nipping at Trump’s heels as evidence the candidates must collaborate to stop Trump.

It’s an argument Kasich surrogates have adopted as they seek to turn the tables on Cruz.

“In Pennsylvania and similar states, Cruz and his supporters can see that a vote for Cruz is a vote for Trump,” former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, a Kasich supporter, wrote Monday in a New York Times op-ed. “Cruz should stand aside there while Kasich’s new political base does its job: denying Trump delegates. While they remain competitors, in this they should be aligned.”

Kasich strategist John Weaver has accused the Cruz campaign of operating in bad faith on that front.

In a blistering series of tweets last week, Weaver told the Cruz campaign to “stop the victim act” and accused them of being “disingenuous” in calling on Kasich to drop out.

“John Kasich must continue to fight Donald Trump for delegates in order to prevent Trump’s reaching 1,237, and despite his protestations, Ted Cruz is not going to achieve that magic number either,” Weaver wrote in a strategy memo sent to reporters.

Indeed, even the anti-Trump forces are conflicted about the best path forward.

They’re grateful that Kasich stayed in the race to deprive Trump of a big delegate haul in Ohio. But they fear his presence will cut both ways, potentially delivering delegates to Trump that Cruz might otherwise win.

“I can’t say if it helps or hurts overall,” Gage said. “State by state, we might find different scenarios.”

Ultimately, if Cruz can’t win outright, the anti-Trump movement could care less how the candidates arrive at a contested convention, as long as it happens. 

“Everyone might not be on the same page in terms of tactics, but the strategy is simple,” said former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, who is not backing anyone but opposes Trump. “Get to Cleveland with enough delegates distributed around to open the convention so the delegates can decide.”