If you go back to the piece I wrote last summer called “Jeb is Headed for Little Bighorn,” you can see two things. One, I was prescient about how and why Jeb would struggle on the campaign trail, and, two, that John Kasich is currently pursuing the strategy that Jeb wanted to pursue but has had to abandon.
I was watching the Halperin/Heilemann/McKinnon campaign reality show The Circus on Showtime last night. They talked to Kasich’s chief strategist John Weaver, and Weaver told them that Kasich knows that he doesn’t have a chance of winning in South Carolina or even of doing particularly well. He’s campaigning there, Weaver explained, almost entirely to poach as many votes as he can from Jeb Bush so that Bush cannot recover and get any traction. Kasich wants to contribute to delivering the knockout blow to the Bush Clan so he can have the “happy warrior” lane to himself in the Midwest. If Kasich can win his home state of Ohio, which is winner-take-all, he’ll be in business. But Michigan is coming up…
CBS News has new polling out of South Carolina, and it shows Kasich at 9% and Bush at six percent. Combine their votes and they match Marco Rubio in third place (15%) behind Cruz (20%) and Trump (42%).
Now, Rubio doesn’t have a consistent brand, which is part of his problem, but he does at least flirt with what we might call “the politics of earnestness.” This contrasts with the Insult Dog stylings of Trump, Cruz, and the dear-departed Chris Christie. I’d be tempted to put Carson (6%) in the earnest camp, too, but I don’t think his voters are going to stay in the earnest camp when he inevitably drops out.
Even if we put Carson in the anti-Insult Dog camp, they combine to account for 36% of the vote in South Carolina, while Trump and Cruz are pulling sixty-two percent. In other words, no combination can stop Trump that doesn’t involve Cruz and vice-versa.
But Bush would like to show some life by coming in third in South Carolina, and Kasich is making that very difficult right now.
And Kasich is doing better than Bush by running the campaign that Bush wanted to run when this all started last summer.
So, which of them should drop out?
I’d argue that Kasich will have proven his point if he beats Bush in South Carolina after finishing a strong second in New Hampshire.
If these poll numbers hold up in South Carolina, it’ll be Bush who’s hurting Kasich at that point, rather than the other way around.