After failing to win any state but Ohio, Republican John Kasich on Wednesday bowed out of the 2016 presidential race and gave real estate tycoon and reality TV star Donald Trump an unfettered path to the GOP convention in Cleveland.
Kasich had vowed to fight on Tuesday, even as Trump’s decisive win in Indiana drove U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas out of the race. But as Kasich prepared to board a campaign plane Wednesday morning, close advisers delivered frank talk to him that led him to end his presidential dreams, a long-time friend said.
“Advisers of his, friends of his, people who love him were starting to look at the direction that this was headed and ultimately, this is the decision that he came to,” said Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges, who was not part of the discussion at the airport.
In a 16-minute speech delivered before banks of news cameras, Kasich didn’t mention Trump, Cruz, Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders and instead stuck to his campaign message about faith and unity.
“As I suspend my campaign today I have renewed faith, deeper faith, that the Lord will show me the way forward and fulfill the purpose of my life,” he said.
Kasich thanked his family, donors, staff, friends, volunteers and Ohio and indirectly acknowledged that his message of hope, fiscal responsibility, tax cuts and streamlined regulations failed to catch on.
“Some missed this message. It wasn’t sexy. It wasn’t a great soundbite,” he said.
Even before Kasich appeared before a mash of TV cameras, chatter began about whether Trump would put him on the ticket as his running mate.
“I have had a good relationship with John, I think John will be very helpful with Ohio,” Trump told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday. “I would be interested in vetting John.”
Ohio Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, an ardent Kasich supporter, said “I can think of no one higher on my list than John Kasich. But, look, that’s something Mr. Trump would have to want and the governor would have to want.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner said “When you look for a vice president you look for someone who has national expertise. As they look at what the qualifications are in the field that’s out there, I think John Kasich’s resume is above all of them.”
For his part, Kasich has shown little interest in the vice-presidency, and those close to him do not expect him to change that stance now that he is out of the race.
Kasich captured just 153 delegates while Trump seized 1,047 of the 1,237 needed to clinch the party’s nomination, according to the Associated Press.
Nonetheless, state Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miami Twp., said Ohio should be proud of the campaign Kasich ran.
“It has been decades since an Ohioan has made it so far in a presidential contest. Gov. Kasich will continue to do great work here in Ohio to help our state prosper, and his work will continue to be an example for the nation to follow,” said Antani, who is a Kasich delegate to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Another Kasich delegate, state Sen. Shannon Jones, R-Springboro, said, “I’m glad he ran and I think he did Ohio proud and I was certainly proud to support him.”
Trump is now calling for GOP unity from elected officials and rank and file voters. But Jones remains in the Never Trump camp, saying his values are inconsistent with what she and her husband are trying to teach their two children.
“How can we talk to our kids about how we treat and respect people who are different than us, how you don’t berate and say stereotypical things about women and ethnic minorities? How do you try to teach them that bullying is not acceptable? How do you teach them that the means don’t justify the end?” Jones said. “I would be a hypocrite if, in trying to raise my children, I voted for someone who expressed the opposite values that we’re trying to instill in them.”
In the end, Kasich’s relatively centrist views, lengthy resume and positive approach failed to gain traction with angry Republican primary voters. In any other year, Kasich’s resume of nearly three decades of experience would have propelled him. But this time, Republican voters demanded someone who would shake up the establishment, not represent it.
Kasich placed second in several contests, including New Hampshire where he invested heavily but even there he came in nearly 20 percentage points behind Trump. When he got wiped out in southern conservative states, Kasich said he would do better in friendlier Midwestern states but he finished third in both Michigan and Wisconsin.
Super Tuesday was especially unkind to Kasich when he finished behind retired brain surgeon Ben Carson in seven states.
Kasich, who turns 64 this month, launched his presidential campaign in July from Ohio State University, his alma mater. He defied early expectations that he wouldn’t last, wouldn’t qualify for the debates, wouldn’t raise enough money.
He outlasted better known Republicans, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, but Kasich still struggled to raise the big money it takes to run a national campaign and compete simultaneously in multiple states.
The 2016 political climate fueled the dramatic, unexpected rise of Trump, a billionaire who has never held elective office and only recently joined the GOP. By the late fall, Kasich was visibly frustrated. He was convinced he had the experience and background to be president, yet GOP primary voters were intrigued by Trump.
Kasich won endorsements from the Boston Globe, the New York Times and other prominent newspapers, but if they had any impact on the race it was small. Still, Kasich trudged on. Even up until the final moments, he argued that he was the best candidate to take on Democrat Hillary Clinton. In a Star Wars themed ad released Wednesday morning, the Kasich campaign predicted Clinton would defeat Trump in a historic landslide.
The Stop Trump movement continuously looked past Kasich to Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz as the more viable alternatives.
Cruz, who had promised to abolish the IRS and impose a flat-rate tax, captured three times as many delegates as Kasich.
But after winning Wisconsin, Cruz stumbled badly in a number of Eastern states, including New York, which he had insulted during a debate when he accused Trump of having “New York values.”
A theme emerged during the campaign: Trump’s more incendiary statements didn’t seem to hurt him, while his opponents didn’t have that same fortune.
Kasich battled some of the same criticism he has faced before. Pundits questioned whether his occasionally prickly personality might repel some voters.
Last year at an event in Southern California sponsored by the wealthy Koch brothers of Texas, one woman told Kasich she objected to his decision to expand Medicaid — the joint federal and state health program that provides health care to low-income people.
Kasich snapped back: “I don’t know about you lady. But when I get to the pearly gates, I’m going to have an answer for what I’ve done for the poor.” According to published reports, Kasich’s answer so offended people in the audience that about 20 simply left.
‘I can win my home state’
Kasich campaigned 10 months, pin-balling around the country, holding town hall meetings, giving interviews, raising money and participating in debates that often looked like shouting matches.
Initially, he focused on New Hampshire, holding more than 100 town hall meetings and telling voters his folksy story about growing up the son of a mailman in hardscrabble McKees Rocks outside of Pittsburgh, meeting with President Nixon in the Oval Office as a college freshman and launching his own political career that took him from the Ohio Statehouse to Congress to the governor’s office.
When it came time for the Pennsylvania primary, however, Kasich finished behind Trump and Cruz and even lost McKees Rocks.
After he stumbled in the South, Kasich brashly blew off calls for him to step aside so that a single GOP establishment candidate could try to stop Trump’s march to the nomination.
“I can win my home state. Why would I clear the decks for them? They ought to be consolidating around me,” he insisted at a stop in Georgia in February.
Even with Kasich’s departure, Ohio’s role in the 2016 presidential election remains massive. The state hosted the first Republican debate held in August in Cleveland and will host the first general election debate at Wright State University in September.
Plus, Cleveland will host 50,000 journalists, delegates and politicos at the Republican National Convention in July. As the ultimate swing state, Ohio will be ground zero for Republican and Democratic nominees seeking to win the White House.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said in a written statement that it’s time for Kasich to return to his day job.
“Since last March, Gov. John Kasich has spent more than 200 days out of state, pursuing his presidential ambitions and ignoring the needs of the people of Ohio,” Pepper wrote. “Our state has trailed the national average in job growth for 40 straight months. Our public school system has plummeted from fifth in the nation to 23rd. Eight of our 10 biggest cities are economically distressed, and there are more Ohio kids living in poverty today than there were at the height of the Great Recession back in 2008. It’s time that Ohio had a governor who was actually doing something about all of that, rather than gallivanting across the country.”
No one is writing the obituary on Kasich’s political career. Trump could put him on the ticket or name him to a high-level cabinet post. Kasich could decide to challenge incumbent U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat who is up for re-election in 2018.
But the first step will be whether Kasich embraces Trump after a bruising campaign.
“It’s hard to say whether Kasich and other Republican elites will embrace Trump or even appear at the convention. I honestly have no idea if they will,” said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “On one hand, Trump is vehemently disliked by many party leaders and could be a toxic general election candidate. On the other hand, party leaders may feel duty-bound to back their nominee, if only to make sure GOP turnout doesn’t crater and sink them down-ballot.
“For someone like Kasich, the decision whether to back Trump is a true dilemma — a choice between two unappealing options.”
Staff writers Jessica Wehrman, Jack Torry and Will Garbe contributed to this report.
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