Election 2020

Kasich Calls the Republican Delegate Race a 'Bizarre Process'

Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks during a news conference in New York on March 31, 2016. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Ohio Governor John Kasich on Monday became the latest presidential candidate to complain about the rules that aren’t favoring him at the moment. But the truth is he’s been been working behind the scenes to collect delegates since 2012.

During a CNN town hall Anderson Cooper asked the bottom feeder of this year’s GOP race if he needs to “step up his game” in order to reach out to delegates. “You know, it’s a bizarre process,” Kasich responded.

This “bizarre” process is one that Kasich and all the other candidates agreed to when they entered the race. And Kasich knows the rules as well as (or better than) anyone. In fact, he’s been quietly working behind the scenes for years, doing his level best to game the rules and use them to his advantage.

Kasich’s tactical maneuvering for delegates began in 2012 with a takeover of the Republican state central committee in Ohio. It was clear by then that Kasich was planning to run for president and he wanted to make sure that committee members (who decide important things like the delegate selection process and their allocation in presidential races) were loyal to him. Loyal incumbents received party support while those on the naughty list were targeted for defeat by candidates who would toe the Kasich party line.

The effort was wildly successful. The party chairman resigned and was replaced by a Kasich surrogate, and the Republican Party in Ohio was left deeply divided, with many conservatives bitterly disappointed in Kasich, who had run as a tea party conservative and was now acting like a strong-armed union boss. But Kasich had his loyal state central committee and the Ohio Republican Party has since expended significant resources to make sure they remain in power. The committee voted in near lockstep in January to endorse Kasich for president, an unprecedented move. Kasich was the only candidate considered for endorsement.

Team Kasich then quickly began working behind the scenes to make Ohio a more favorable primary state for the Ohio governor. They began by encouraging lawmakers to vote to move the primary from March 8 to March 15 because an RNC rule barred winner-take-all delegate allocation before March 15. Once Kasich signed that bill into law, the Kasich-stacked state central committee quickly followed with a vote to declare Ohio a winner-take-all state, setting the stage for Kasich to collect all 66 of the state’s delegates. (In 2012 when it was a proportional state, Rick Santorum walked away from the Ohio primary with 21 delegates even though Mitt Romney won a majority of the votes.)

Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges, an enthusiastic cheerleader for Kasich, acknowledged at the time that the changes were essentially taking the state out of contention in the primary and that other candidates wouldn’t bother to compete against a sitting governor in an all-or-nothing delegate contest. “I think the biggest risk they have is wasting their money,” Borges said. “If I were one of the other candidates, despite all the tough talk, I’d look at the governor and say, ‘Well, there’s 49 other states to play in.'”

And it worked out exactly as planned. Tom Zawistowski, president of We the People Convention, wrote:

Have you noticed all those TV ads in Ohio for Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio? Have you seen all their signs all over the state? Been getting their mailings? The answer is that you have not, because they do not exist. The deck is so stacked against them by the ORP and John Kasich that they all have no practical choice but to concede the state and disappoint their voters.  All those Cruz voters and Rubio voters who are so excited about their candidates, thanks to John Kasich and the Ohio Republican Party, their votes just don’t count this election. Both candidates are way behind in the polls because they decided as early as last June not to campaign in Ohio. 

And that’s exactly how it played out. In 2012 my phone rang off the hook in the weeks before the Ohio primary. In fact, I stopped answering it because the candidate calls were coming hourly. And my mailbox was filled with campaign literature from all of the GOP candidates who were still in the race at that time. You couldn’t swing a cat without hitting Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney or Rick Perry in Ohio in 2012. In 2016? There were a handful of visits by the candidates, almost all for fundraising purposes, and no mailings.

Kasich can act surprised all he wants about how this process is playing out, but he’s been quietly maneuvering behind the scenes to become the nominee for the last several years—using the rules that he’s now whining about to his advantage. Unfortunately for him, he’s been a poor candidate and voters find him unappealing and unlikable. 

John “above it all” Kasich told Anderson Cooper that he’s not worried about the whole delegate thing. “I’m not really in the middle of it because I’ve gotta prepare for people like you and I get out and do town halls and all the things that I do, but yeah, we have…” he trailed off.

Asked a second time if he needs to focus more on delegates, Kasich changed his mind and said that he is actually focusing on “the whole delegate thing,”

Yeah…oh yeah…that’s what we are focusing on. Look, for a month I’ve been saying we’re going to a convention and the key is delegate growth. And so we’re going to grow delegates. I mean, we’re doing pretty well in New York. I don’t like to predict, but we’re running, you know, second in the state and in many of these congressional districts it’s very close between Mr. Trump and the campaign. We’re running. So.

So. Yeah. Mr. Articulate is not concerned about delegates except when he is really focused on them. Which is to say he’s been intensely and obsessively focused on them since at least 2012. But you know, the rules are “bizarre” right now because he’s not running the table.

One more thing…notice that Kasich called Trump “Mr. Trump” tonight? Isn’t that almost always the mark of a Trump surrogate or surrogate-in-waiting? Word is that Kasich and Trump teamed up last weekend to deny Cruz delegates in Michigan. Kasich has said unequivocally that he will not be Trump’s vice president. But if that’s true, then why the sudden deference and the teamwork? Could the two be working behind the scenes to pitch a Trump/Kasich ticket to delegates? I have a feeling that Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid would salivate at the prospect of the diabolical great deals they could cut with that pair in charge. I’m hard-pressed to think of how we could come up with a more big-government, central-planning, strong-armed Republican ticket. With all the great candidates we started out with in this race, is it possible we could end up with the absolute bottom of the barrel? It’s looking entirely possible at this point.