Where the heck have I been? Short answer: doing Shakespeare stuff. (Much more about that soon.) But now I'm back in Cleveland, where the Republican National Convention is on its way, John Kasich is governor, and no one understands exactly how these two things relate to each other. So let me ask an important question this election season: What on Earth is John Kasich thinking?
First, let's review the key facts: Governor John Kasich is one of the three candidates still actively running in the Republican presidential primary. Of those three candidates, Kasich is currently coming in fourth. That isn't a joke; Marco Rubio still has more delegates than John Kasich. Rubio quit a month ago, just at the moment when winning Ohio convinced Ohio Governor John Kasich that he was in it to win it.
But coming in behind Rubio doesn't matter, because Kasich can't actually win a majority of delegates anyway. I don't mean "can't" is in "won't" but "can't" as in "mathematically impossible." Kasich was mathematically eliminated from the election weeks ago. I am not making any of this up. I could not make any of this up.
This, by the way, is the one billed as the sane, reasonable, practical Republican.
What could explain this seemingly irrational behavior? I see three possibilities, two of which explain the apparent irrationality as some degree of actual irrationality.
First, Kasich could simply be in denial. Getting close to the Presidency at all, even being a dark horse candidate for the nomination, can do strange and terrible things to the human mind. Once you've seen that possibility in front of you, it can be hard to accept that the chance has gone by forever. (As a sidebar, some of the current tactical nastiness on the Democratic side might be explained by exactly this: getting close enough to make the possibility seem real while being far enough behind that it's already slipped through your fingers. It can take a while to work those feelings through.) Don't judge. This is a psychological temptation that most of us never face.
I'm going to call this the One Ring scenario, in which the power of the Presidency is so powerful that having it between your fingers, even for a few moments, will drive you obsessively mad. In this scenario, Kasich is Gollum, obsessively chasing a prize that he has long since lost.
The second possibility is the modified One Ring scenario, in which Kasich is not completely irrational but only mostly irrational. Kasich may well have set his heart on stealing the nomination at the convention, partly assisted by the fact that the convention itself will be in his home state (you know, the only state he's actually won). This makes Kasich Saruman rather than Gollum: trusting in his own guile to get the prize, but with a plan that's too clever by half and that also badly underestimates the sheer force of other claimants. (Is Trump Sauron in this scenario? He has all the best orcs! He's going to build a wall and make Gondor pay for it!)
Now, I've been talking up the contested-convention scenario on this blog for months now, and it remains a possibility. But sometime over the last month people started talking about a contested convention as a sure thing. That sudden hardening of conventional wisdom is alarming. And the truth is denying Trump the 1237 delegates he needs will be a close, close thing if it happens. Not to mention the fact that if he comes up a few short, people will say the highest vote-getter should win. Not to mention that if Trump somehow fails, it will be very hard to deny the nomination to Cruz.
If Kasich thinks that holding the convention in Cleveland will give him enough local advantage to take the presidential nomination away from TWO candidates who've BOTH beaten the hell out of him in 49 primaries and caucuses, he is being totally delusional about how much home-town advantage counts. One little stronghold is not enough, Saruman.
But what if Kasich is actually acting rationally? And what if I dropped the Tolkien analogies completely? Let's call the third scenario The Kingmaker Scenario. In this, Kasich is still betting on some form of contested convention, or at least preparing himself in case it happens. But rather than imagining himself as the white knight anointed in Cleveland to save the Grand Old Party from, umm, its voters, what if Kasich imagines himself as a player trying to strike the best possible deal? (Oh, fine. Let's call him Tyrion Lannister. Happy now?)
Kasich may know that he's not getting the crown, but see the possibility of getting something for himself at a contested convention because his little pile of delegates may make or break someone else. If neither Trump nor Cruz comes in to Cleveland with a majority, Kasich may be able to extract some promise from one of them in exchange for his votes, perhaps even the VP nomination.
Is that what Kasich is doing? I have no idea. Machiavellian cunning doesn't announce its plans to the public, and delusions don't always explain themselves well. If Kasich is really playing the angles, he has to pretend like he's still trying to win the election. If Kasich is too self-deluded to play the angles, we won't know until July. And if he is hoping to make a deal, it's not clear if there's a line he would draw. Is he hoping to put Cruz over the top? Or would he make the same deal with Trump? There's no way to know yet.
And let me tell you: here in Cleveland, the suspense is not a lot of fun.
cross-posted from, and all comments welcome at, Dagblog