Earlier today, John laid out a plausible and optimistic scenario for how the Republican presidential race will play out. He suggested that even if Ben Carson and John Kasich do not drop out of the race, their voters will start to fall away and most of them will gravitate towards Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz (probably more to Rubio than Cruz).
In this scenario, the race will become effectively a three-man contest. Trump then will be beatable in winner-take-all primaries.
This doesn’t mean that Trump will be beaten in most, or even many, of them. However, John’s scenario provides reason to believe he can be stopped.
But consider a second scenario, which I also consider plausible:
1. Kasich stays in the race (as John and I think he probably will);
2. Rubio replaces Jeb Bush as a major target of Trump;
3. Kasich remains under the radar, drawing little fire from anyone;
4. In the debates, Kasich continues to come off as above the food fight, and no other candidate does;
5. As the only candidate left with governing experience, the only real moderate, and, seemingly, the only “adult,” Kasich’s support holds and perhaps grows;
6. He thus draws a respectable percentage of the vote in states like Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, New York, and California.
In this scenario, it’s a four-way race and Trump, with his 35 percent share of the vote, wins most of the winner-take-all primaries. He thus becomes the Republican nominee.
Which of these two scenarios is more plausible? I don’t know.
I do know that to have strong confidence that Trump won’t be nominated, what we really need is a two-man race. And we’re pretty far from that scenario, it seems to me.
UPDATE: Presumably, Kasich won’t stay in the race indefinitely if he fails to make a strong showing — say, 20 percent or better — in states where he expects to do well. Let’s therefore consult the primary schedule.
On March 1, there are two primaries in which Kasich might fancy his prospects: Massachusetts and Vermont. But it’s unlikely that poor showings there would cause him to quit.
The first big primary for Kasich is Michigan on March 8, and it’s no coincidence that Kasich left South Carolina for Michigan before votes were cast yesterday. A deflating result in Michigan could drive Kasich out, especially if he’s not polling well in Ohio (he won’t want to be humiliated in his home state). However, I don’t assume Kasich will do poorly there.
Illinois and Ohio vote on March 15. Kasich will have to perform well in Ohio (no worse than a solid second place, I would think). Thus, March 15 looks the earliest Kasich might quit.
After March 15, 18 states will hold primaries and one will have caucuses (Utah). Many of the primaries will be winner-take-all.
I think Kasich needs to be out or on life support by this time. Otherwise, Trump probably will be very hard to stop.