Although the result of Republican primary in New York was unsurprising, that made it no less unpalatable. Donald Trump was widely predicted to do well and he did indeed. At last count he had captured at least 89 of New York’s 95 delegates. That does not guarantee that he will command a majority of delegates before the convention but that goal is certainly in sight. The Trump ego was sufficiently assuaged that in his Tuesday evening remarks he seemed determined to focus on attempting to “sound Presidential” and hence he passed up the ritual insulting of rivals that has been his regular practice. For our part, we were quite unmoved by the newly applied patina of civility.
Senator Cruz had a distinctly bad evening, finishing a distant third in the voting and winning no delegates. Moreover, his prospects in the next round of primaries are not generally thought to be promising. Nevertheless, he had already amassed sufficient delegates to make it a virtual certainty that he will remain in the race until Trump has a majority of delegates.
Governor Kasich fared better than Cruz in finishing second, but was far behind Trump with only a handful of delegates (apparently four, with two remaining undetermined). As a result, there could be increased pressure on Kasich to withdraw. Even before the New York results, Governor Romney had argued that if both Cruz and Kasich remained in the race, Trump would be nominated. Romney did not identify who he thought should drop out, but since Kasich is well behind Cruz, the remark seemed pointed primarily at him. We continue to believe that Kasich should continue his campaign, and that Romney was wrong on two counts. First, if Kasich withdrew, some and possibly many, of his supporters would move to Trump, and it is not at all clear that Cruz would be the net beneficiary. Second, we do not accept Romney’s implied premise that Cruz would be preferable to Trump, as a candidate and as President. As we have made clear, we believe that both are unacceptable (“Scylla and Charybdis”).
On Wednesday morning, The New York Times expressed concern that pressure to withdraw would be applied to both Kasich and Sanders within their respective parties, and urged both to remain active in the race. So far as Republicans are concerned, the Times is a dubious source of counsel and its encouragement of Kasich was distinctly lukewarm. Nevertheless, it suggests the reasons why Kasich would be the strongest Republican candidate in the general election and, if elected, best suited to serve as President:
Mr. Kasich is not an exciting candidate, or even a political moderate. But he is the most sane-sounding individual in the Republican field, and has been from the start. Unlike his rivals, he’s shown a willingness to play by the rules. His presence in the race offers moderate Republicans a palatable alternative in the primaries and caucuses, and also if there is a real fight at the convention.
In terms of the election, the strength of Kasich—and the weakness of Trump and Cruz—was underscored by the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll. The poll put Trump’s net favorability rating at minus-41. An astonishing 65 percent of registered voters view him unfavorably, versus 24 percent with a positive view, making him the most unpopular major party presidential candidate ever recorded. Cruz is at minus-23, with 49 viewing him negatively and 26 percent in a positive light. Kasich, in contrast, has a net positive favorable rating of +12. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton and a negative rating of -24 compared with a positive rating of +9 for Sanders. Looking at the ratings of the two front-runners, it is not surprising that some observers described the coming election as an “unpopularity contest.” Clearly, Clinton is vulnerable, but it is highly unlikely that either Trump or Cruz will be successful in exploiting that vulnerability.
In viewing the contest between Trump and Cruz, it is one that has frequently been described as an effort to choose the lesser of two evils. This brings to mind the memorable scene in Master and Commander in which the Master explains to the ship’s surgeon that it is always the practice of the navy to select the lesser of two weevils. (Readers who missed the movie, and may not get the joke, can view the scene on ever-helpful YouTube. ) So, we are left with the thought, Trump and Cruz, what a pair of weevils. Nevertheless, some of us cling to the hope that the GOP will somehow find a way to nominate a candidate who is not a weevil at all. And if not Kasich, we ask, who—and how?