Eminence Front

Ohio Governor John Kasich shouldn’t feel sad if he is forced to suspend his campaign after this Tuesday’s Republican primary in Wisconsin. If still-likely GOP nominee Donald Trump loses spectacularly on November 8, whatever is left of the Republican establishment will turn to Kasich as their only hope to avoid losing a fourth consecutive presidential election in 2020.

A rather frightening subplot in the drama of the 2016 campaign is Kasich’s skill at convincing casual political observers that he is a throwback to the long-lost days of non-reactionary Republicanism, despite the abundant evidence that Kasich is a hardcore conservative ideologue. Kasich understands the power of packaging–and it’s a talent Republicans will fully utilize four years from now, assuming the GOP comes up short this year.

The Republican Party’s dream has always been a presidential candidate who can serve the interests of the 1 percent while appealing to the emotions and aspirations of the 99 percent. This is the real reason Ronald Reagan is worshiped as a second Jesus on the right; he was successfully able to convince a majority of the American electorate that he was looking out for them, all while implementing an economic vision that funneled wealth to the very top.

Kasich may not be as charismatic as Reagan, but he has the same seductive ability to convince those unaware of his track record that he’s a man of compassion and concern. If Trump fails big this year, expect the GOP establishment to take aggressive new steps to make sure that a Trump-style candidate is successfully stymied the next time around–and that a more marketable right-winger gets the GOP nomination.

Kasich is the only prominent Republican who can be sold to the masses as a reasonable candidate in 2020. The only other Republican of stature who has the ability to come across as a rational person despite embracing irrational policies is Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker–and for obvious reasons, the GOP is not going to nominate anybody from the Bay State anytime soon.

Conservatives moved this country to the right in part by thinking several elections ahead; progressives must do the same. As President, Kasich would lead the same assault on progressive principles that George W. Bush launched fifteen years ago. If progressive activists manage to turn back the Trump threat this year, they should spend a few brief moments celebrating before turning their attention to the 2018 midterms and especially the 2020 election. Kasich will be the GOP’s presidential nominee that year. He will once again wear the false garments of moderation. It will be up to those activists to expose the real Kasich record–and when he says those centrist words in measured tones, it will be up to those activists to shout: “It’s a put-on!”

UPDATE: More from Chris Hayes.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.