Disclaimer: This is definitely not an endorsement of Governor Kasich, but rather a discussion of the Republican race. Given that we called for Iowans to caucus for Rand Paul, we thought this point would be obvious.
Dear New Hampshirite,
Today you are heading to the polls in order to cast the first primary votes of the 2016 election cycle. Your fellow citizens in Iowa, ever the contrarians, have selected who they think should be the next President of the United States and you have the chance to make your voice heard in response. Your state, which generally favors more-moderate politicians like Mitt Romney and John McCain (as opposed to Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee) has the chance to winnow a field of candidates that are cannibalizing each other in an attempt to win the “establishment” vote.
You know that the “establishment” lane isn’t really something that exists but is more of a media and popular construction to explain the political middle-ground over which four or five GOP Presidential contenders are fighting. Each has his or her merits:
Jeb Bush: The early frontrunner has executive experience from his time as Governor of Florida. While his last name dredges up memories of 12 years of our nation’s leaders, it also is synonymous with being able to call on the most experienced leaders in the event of a national emergency.
Marco Rubio: The Senator from Florida with a seemingly bright future. While he has recently suffered a setback by appearing to cling to talking points, he generally embodies the Republican success story. He could also attract blue-collar voters in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other rust-belt states as well as having a significant appeal in Florida.
Chris Christie: The “tell it like it is” New Jersey Governor has been a staple of Republican politics for the better part of the last decade. Elected twice in an otherwise blue state, Christie helped several Republican governors win their seats in 2014. People enjoyed seeing him shoot down snarky reporters and not be afraid to yell when the time was right.
Carly Fiorina: The lone woman’s voice on the GOP stage, the former HP CEO wants to make it clear that a woman shouldn’t be elected President because of the merits of her husband but because she made it to the top on her own. A political outsider who had an unsuccessful run for the Senate in California, Fiorina is an effective counterpoint to the decades of inside-Washington being put forward by the Democrats.
John Kasich: The sitting Governor of Ohio and former Congressman, Kasich is well-liked in his home state and has connections in Washington DC. A consummate moderate and economy-focused Governor, Kasich looks to make the reasoned approach and chart a middle course through the current political climate.
Following the vote today in New Hampshire, both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz will continue their campaigns into the south for both the South Carolina primary on February 20th and the “SEC” primaries on Super Tuesday. Neither man is risking everything on New Hampshire. If polls are to be believed, Donald Trump should win New Hampshire by several percent and get his first taste at an outright primary win.
Therefore, it falls to the “non-Trump” candidates to manage expectations in advance of tonight’s results. Could one of them consolidate all of the “undecided” support and make a run at the top spot? It’s possible but unlikely. Remember, New Hampshire has an open primary that allows registered voters to vote in either the Democrat or Republican primary. Given that the Democrat primary is also contested in this election, it’s unlikely that a large uncounted group of people are going to break away from their intent to vote in the Democrat primary and switch to case votes on the Republican side. Most polling suggests that Donald Trump commands the loyalty of around 75% of his ~30% of the vote. The other 25% are merely “leaning” towards voting for the New York mogul. The number of committed voters is the highest among any GOP candidate in the race. This would seem to indicate that voter support for other candidates may switch around but around 23-24% of the GOP electorate in New Hampshire is solidly going to vote for Trump. In perspective, given recent polling, even if all 6-7% of Trump’s “weak” support were to go to Marco Rubio (polling a distant second), Rubio would still barely come within the margin of error for making first place competitive.
So, why should you vote for John Kasich rather than one of the other establishment lane candidates? Because Kasich is the best bet to keep the “establishment lane” of the GOP primary open the longest.
As we discussed in the post suggesting that Iowans vote for Rand Paul, the goal of the early primaries should be to get a sense of where voters are leaning, but not to take away viable options for the Presidency. While the winnowing effect of removing candidates like Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum is important, the unintended consequence of the early primaries is to remove choices from later voters who would be able to change the direction of the race. Basically: the GOP primary cycle is front-heavy with social conservatives and back-heavy with moderates. If an “establishment” candidate wants to be able to make it (funding and favorable coverage) to the “late game,” they need to be able to plot a course forward that gets them into April and later.
Current numbers suggest that Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and Carly Fiorina do not have effective enough campaigns for long-term viability (just made 75% of the readers mad with this one, but I’ll explain in a moment).
So, what’s the most-likely outcome from New Hampshire? Trump wins with upper-20%-ish numbers and then what? Well, in New Hampshire, in order to qualify for delegates, the State Party requires that a candidate receive over 10% of the popular vote. Delegates are then distributed based on the formula 20x(Candidate Vote)/(Total Vote) rounded to the nearest whole number with any remaining delegates going to the winner. So, we have our “winnowing condition”: get 10% or get out of the race. However, when you do the math, if several candidates are bunched around 12%, they will be receiving, roughly, the same number of delegates (4 or 5, most likely). There’s really no pressure that Rubio, if he finishes in second with 15% can assert against Bush if Bush finishes with 12%. Effectively, the two men will be tied coming out of New Hampshire and have no reason to clear the lane. Current projections would suggest that Fiorina and Christie will not make it over the 10% threshold. Fiorina has vowed to stay in the race until the convention, but continuing to finish last will make her campaign an irrelevance. Christie will, most likely, drop out and endorse Kasich (don’t quote me on that, but it would make sense). Ben Carson won’t receive any delegates, but he wasn’t expecting to do so. His campaign will continue through Super Tuesday to see if he can play in the South. Cruz is right on the threshold for delegates, but his finish in New Hampshire doesn’t matter to his Southern strategy. Cruz can only “exceed expectations” in New Hampshire.
If we’ve established, then, that Rubio and Bush will most likely remain in the race, we would also project that Bush won’t drop out until either a) after Super Tuesday (3/1) if Rubio has a great showing in Virginia, Vermont, Minnesota, and maybe a few Southern States or b) after Florida (3/15). Why does that matter? Because in this scenario, Bush will continue to draw between 5-10% from Marco Rubio’s base of support. Especially in the scenario where the two men are in the race when Floridians go to the polls, they will divide the vote between the two of them, effectively handing the winner-take-all state to Trump.
What other state votes on March 15 and is also winner-take-all? You guessed it, Ohio. What other state votes on March 15 and does not have two of its prominent politicians vying for the same spot? Yup, Ohio. What other state votes on March 15 and will vote for its popular governor? Ohio. Who is that governor? John Kasich.
Because Kasich could win his home state where it appears that neither Rubio nor Bush could do the same, Kasich is the logically superior choice to either Floridian in the event that voters wanted to ensure a viable establishment candidate when moderate states go to the polls in April and beyond.
In the short-term, yes, this strategy will divide the “establishment vote” in South Carolina (though it could make Bush drop out after the first in the South primary depending on how the math plays out). However, given the facts that significant cracks have begun to appear in Rubio’s establishment facade, Kasich, who has been tested as a Congressman and as a Governor would have a steady hand despite the turbulence created by Donald Trump.
Therefore, my New Hampshirite friends, I encourage you to vote for John Kasich today in order to keep an “establishment back up plan” on standby for voters. Preserving viable options is the flip side of the power of winnowing we have designated to early primaries. While I am certainly not endorsing John Kasich for President, we should like to endorse keeping options available to voters.