Last Chance for Republican Establishment Candidates?

Recently Gov. John Kasich indicated that he’s “had it” with Trump and Carson.

“Let me tell you something,” Mr. Kasich said, his anger boiling over. “I’ve about had it with these people.”

Mr. Kasich went on to argue that Republicans who proposed abolishing Medicaid and Medicare, imposing a 10 percent flat tax, or deporting millions of people were out of touch with reality. Without mentioning anyone by name, Mr. Kasich appeared to be taking aim at Ben Carson and Donald J. Trump, the outsider candidates who have been dominating national and state polls for months.

“We’re gonna pick them up and we’re gonna take them to the border and scream at them to get out of our country,” he said, referring to Mr. Trump’s plan to build a wall along the Mexican border and remove immigrants who entered the United States illegally. “Well that’s just crazy.”

Things are sure to get very interesting in tonight’s debate if he brings some of that exasperation to the table.

On another front, it is impossible to know what was discussed last weekend in that Houston hotel where the Bush family met with Jeb’s major donors. But it is very possible that the conversation went along the lines of what Brian Beutler wrote today about Jeb’s existential crisis.

Bush has not performed well in the debates. He hasn’t figured out how to beat back, or at least neutralize, Donald Trump’s aggressive taunts. He hasn’t escaped, and probably can’t escape, the fact that the last Republican president—widely regarded as one of the worst in U.S. history—is his brother, who’s still alive and whom he still feels compelled to defend.

Combined, these factors have drawn support for Bush down from nearly 20 percent of the GOP electorate to less than 10. The good news for Bush is that, because he’s no longer the front-running establishment candidate, the dynamic of this debate should favor him better than previous ones. But if he can’t reverse his slide on Wednesday, or if he exacerbates it, he could do his party a tremendous favor by stepping aside right away…

There are technically 14 “serious” candidates remaining in the Republican race, but in a meaningful sense there are only five or six—the conservative and counter-establishment favorites like Trump, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz, and a center-right placeholder that one of the other 10 candidates is meant to fill. Bush and Rubio are the likeliest to fill it. They’re also, not coincidentally, the two candidates promising most credibly to widen the party’s appeal beyond white conservatives. Bush needs to hope Rubio wobbles Wednesday night, because ultimately no more than one candidate can fill the establishment niche. But if the field doesn’t winnow soon, that role will go unfilled.

One does get the feeling that something needs to break with regards to the current dynamic in this Republican primary. That’s what Martin Longman is suggesting today as well.

If they [Bush, Rubio and Kasich] aren’t willing to confront the stupid-demons in the debate, then they should shut up about the tone and tenor of the campaign and just drop out.

It will be interesting to see if tonight is the night for that confrontation.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.