This man is losing badly in a campaign for president, and yet he is obviously having the time of his life.
It’s not just because of all the delicious sandwiches.
John Kasich’s sunny-happy-hungry persona — which surely annoys the crap out of his opponents who wish he would admit he has lost and go away — is a departure from his time in Congress and his early years as governor of Ohio, when he was known as a miserable grump.
As The New York Times reported in March, he was so abrasive in the House that Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, had to admonish him about his people skills.
So how has this campaign, in which Kasich has so far lost 41 of 42 contests and still has fewer delegates than Marco Rubio, brought him to inner peace?
I think there are two secrets to Kasich’s calm: Unlike his opponents, he never expected to win. And even if he loses, he thinks the party will wish in retrospect that it had nominated him.
Kasich already had his presidential hopes dashed once, when he made a brief and unloved run for the 2000 Republican nomination. If Ted Cruz and Donald Trump think Kasich has overstayed his welcome in this race, it was the opposite back then: He dropped out in July 1999.
He spent a decade in the private sector, working for Lehman Brothers and hosting a Fox News show. His comeback in state politics was unexpected and unexpectedly successful. Now, he’s running a campaign that runs against the grain of his increasingly angry party, advised by the man who conceived a similarly unsuccessful campaign for Jon Huntsman in 2012.
Kasich has to have realised all along that this campaign was gravy — maybe he still thinks he has an outside shot at grabbing the nomination at an open convention, but even if he doesn’t, he’s gotten way farther than he ever would have expected in, say, 2005.
Plus, Kasich has reason to think history will smile on him after his loss, because Ted Cruz and Donald Trump each offer prescriptions for Republican electoral doom.
Trump’s caustic rhetoric and appeals to white-identity politics have been enough to get him a plurality in a primary, but have generated terrible poll numbers that show he will lose badly in a general election. Cruz offers an orthodox conservatism with a very limited constituency — so limited that Cruz cannot even win a Republican primary by pointing out that his leading opponent is a fake conservative. He also has a repulsive personality.
The longer Kasich stays in and the more attention he draws to himself, the more likely he (rather than Jeb Bush or Rubio) is to be seen as the counterfactual: the candidate Republicans could have won with, if only they had chosen to nominate him. In the meantime, he can bask in the glow of mostly favourable media attention, as he gets to be the “reasonable,” “sensible” candidate in contrast to the two other weirdos.
Plus, there’s all the great food along the way.
Did you know that, in San Diego, they put french fries inside the burrito? There’s no way Kasich is getting out of this thing before the California primary on June 7.