They Are Who We Thought They Were

A good chunk of my blogging career has been dedicated to calling out the centrist right. There have been times recently where I have regretted some of what I wrote, thinking I was perhaps too harsh and too demanding of a sort of ritualistic purity.

And then John Kasich does a thing like agreeing to speak at the Democratic National Convention, and I’m like, nah.

Kasich, as you recall, was the last ditch Hail Mary of the hardened Never Trumpers who could not bother to think rationally four years ago – who, in spite of the glowing red neon sign that indicated that Ted Cruz was all that stood between Donald Trump and the Republican nomination, insisted on throwing all of their remaining credibility (and a decent chunk of money) at the dead-end candidacy of John Kasich. (Who, by the way, is the son of a mailman. Did you know that?)

Now many of those very same dead-enders have joined Kasich and have abandoned all pretense of being in any way considered conservatives. The Grifter Project, as Steve Stampley accurately pegs them, has finagled millions of dollars from Democratic donors to promote their efforts to, errr, stamp out moderate Republican Senators.

What’s interesting about the Grifters is that they are in effect showing themselves to be the true purists. Susan Collins is no longer pure enough even for them, and must be ousted for the sin of voting for a nominee to the Supreme Court selected by a president from her own party.

Dan McClaughlin has the measure of this clown show. And he also observes, as I did here, that this effort to cure the Republican party of its Trumpiness by burning down the entire thing is likely a very, very bad strategy.

Where the Lincoln Project leaves behind any pretense at being a Republican or conservative project at all is in concentrating its efforts heavily on mainstream, moderate, and otherwise very not-Trumpy Republican Senators — Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, Joni Ernst, Martha McSally, and Thom Tillis — and doing so mainly by running ads attacking them from the left, not the right. Some of these folks hold seats that, if won by the Democrats, would be extremely hard to win back. And if your claim is that Republicans need to be defeated to learn some sort of lesson, there is no evidence that burning down the Republican caucus on Capitol Hill by removing its more moderate and temperate members will make it less Trumpy. As I predicted in 2018, that was not the lesson taken by House Republicans from losing power, and it is not how the Republican Parties of California, Virginia, or New York have responded to losing power. What moderates the party is the need to pursue the building of majorities, not the experience of the wilderness, where performative rage is more lucrative.

The Baseball Crank also righteously lays into Kasich for his disastrous 2016 run.

What did he do then, when there was still a large, active sentiment among Republican and conservative voters to stop Trump — large enough that 60 percent of Republican primary voters cast ballots against Trump in contested primaries through Indiana on May 3? Kasich did everything possible to prevent those voters from coming together behind a single anti-Trump candidate. He was not the only one, of course: Jeb Bush should have dropped out by Labor Day rather than pouring out oceans of money attacking Marco Rubio, Rubio should have packed it in no later than his March 5 wipeout in Kansas, Chris Christie should not have whiffed on his chance to attack Trump over Atlantic City at the first debate, and Ted Cruz should not have waited so long to criticize Trump. But no decision was so obviously self-interested and destructive of the anti-Trump effort than Kasich staying in the race throughout the primaries. He could, and should, have bailed out after finishing 19 points back in New Hampshire, much as Huntsman did in 2012. As I’ve noted before, outside of Ohio, Vermont, and D.C., Kasich was a consistent flop, always below 30 percent of the vote: In the other 31 contests through Wisconsin he cleared 20 percent in just one other state (Michigan). He finished in single digits 19 times in 42 contests. He finished behind Ben Carson ten times in 15 tries. Staying in the race drained votes that Rubio or Cruz could have consolidated (especially in Virginia). When Rubio told people to strategically vote Kasich in Ohio, Kasich refused to reciprocate. This all made sense only if he was playing to be a power broker at a brokered convention, but staying in the race all the way to Indiana — then dropping as soon as Cruz gave up the stop-Trump ghost — prevented one.

It was not just Kasich’s strategic choices: Over and over, even when Rubio and Cruz were going hard after Trump, Kasich refused to attack Trump on the debate stage. Go back and watch the GOP debates from February and March 2016 if you don’t believe me and see how often Kasich even talks about Trump. The simple interpretation, as with his strategy, is that Kasich was either hoping to cut a deal with Trump or, at any rate, prioritize stopping the movement-conservative alternatives (Cruz and Rubio) over stopping Trump.

I agree with the Lincoln Project people and Kasich on one front: yes, Trumpism needs to be purged from the GOP (or at least moderated in form with a more level-headed standard bearer). But then again, so do the likes of Kasich, Wilson, Schmidt, and others. That they have already seemingly begun the process of their own accord is a most welcome development.