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November 20th, 2017

Insight

John Kasich: The candidate who wouldn't leave

Jonah Goldberg

By Jonah Goldberg

Published April 6, 2016

There was an old "Saturday Night Live" fake movie trailer narrated by horror movie veteran Christopher Lee. John Belushi played a houseguest who couldn't take a hint from a couple that just wanted to go to bed. The husband tells Belushi, "Look, I don't want to be rude, but my wife is VERY tired!" Belushi responds by picking up the TV Guide and saying dismissively, "Yeah. ... Hey, there's a good movie on tonight! I think I'll call up some friends and watch it over here!"

Then came Lee's creepy voiceover: "It came without warning! They were just being POLITE! They didn't realize that they'd be stuck with ... "The Thing That Wouldn't Leave"!

John Kasich is this election season's The Thing That Wouldn't Leave.

After investing everything in New Hampshire, Kasich came in second, doing worse than Jon Huntsman had in his race-ending performance in 2012. Kasich's response? He didn't just declare victory, he proclaimed, "Tonight, the light overcame the darkness."

Since then, Kasich has lost some 30 contests and won one -- in his home state of Ohio. But still, he just won't go.

It's not just that Kasich can't take a hint, it's that he appears to be living in a kind of fantasy world, largely defined by three myths or delusions.

The first is the most endearing. Kasich has the best résumé of the remaining candidates. Heck, he arguably had the best résumé of the entire 2016 field, if by "best" you mean the longest and deepest government experience. He's not delusional about that.

What he is confused about is the idea that a lot of people care that he was, say, the chairman of the House Budget Committee two decades ago. According to legend, a supporter once shouted at Adlai Stevenson, "Governor Stevenson, all thinking people are for you!" Stevenson shot back, "That's not enough. I need a majority!" Even if Kasich is right that his résumé makes him the best qualified to be president -- a debatable proposition -- the simple fact is that after nearly three dozen contests, relatively few voters agree with him.

Ah, but what about the delegates? If it's a contested convention and neither Donald Trump nor Ted Cruz has enough delegates to lock up the nomination, won't they turn to Kasich?

Not necessarily. But don't tell that to the Ohio governor, who goes from interview to interview insisting that he'd be the natural choice for the convention. Why would he be? Well, that answer varies.

Kasich's most frequently stated reason is that delegates will choose him because he beats Hillary Clinton in the polls. And it's true that Kasich does marginally better than Cruz in hypothetical matchups against Clinton -- and a lot better than Trump.

Left unanswered is why the delegates -- many of them loyal to Trump and Cruz -- would gamely back The Thing That Wouldn't Leave. After the second or third round of voting, delegates are free to cast their ballots for whomever they want. There's little evidence that they'd want Kasich, and they'd be under no obligation to vote for him over, say, Paul Ryan or Marco Rubio -- or, for that matter, Rush Limbaugh or Shaquille O'Neal. Indeed, for many delegates it would seem either unfair or downright crazy to skip over bigger vote-getters and back Kasich just because he won his home state of Ohio.

Of course, what that leaves out is the fact that Kasich is running as a hopeful, positive, uplifting champion of light over darkness. That brings us to yet another Kasich delusion, and this one is shared by many of his backers as well. Call it the myth of Kasich the hugger.

In South Carolina, a college student asked the Ohio governor for one of his supposedly famous hugs. It wasn't until later that we learned the huggee worked for the hugger's super PAC. More to the point, Kasich is simply not the touchy-feely guy he's pretending to be or perhaps thinks he is.

The man is famously irascible, pugnacious and sanctimonious. He's prone to defending his policies, such as his expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare in Ohio, by insinuating that he cares more about his eternal soul than his critics. A lot of people talk about how unlikeable Cruz is. Well, I've met both men, and I'd much rather have a beer with Cruz.

Maybe Kasich's denial stems from the fact that he's never lost a race and can't contemplate failing this time. I really have no idea. All I know is that it's time for him to go.

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Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online.

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