CURVEBALL

Pragmatists’ Dream Ticket: Hillary-Kasich 2016

If Donald Trump gets the GOP nomination, all bets are off—and Ohio’s Republican governor just might find common cause with the Democratic frontrunner.

02.24.16 5:01 AM ET

Let me lay down a marker: If either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz is the Republican nominee for president, I predict that John Kasich will jump the GOP ship and agree to run as Hillary Clinton’s vice president. The resulting ticket will virtually sweep the table on election night, create a new generation of “Kasich Democrats” and send the disarrayed and dismayed Trumpublican Party for a long, long walk in the dark, dark woods.

Sound implausible? Maybe. Prognosticating has been a dangerous business this election cycle. I was one of the many pundits laughing off Donald Trump in the early days. I bet that Scott Walker would be the one to thread the needle between establishment appeal and right wing red meat. I was wrong then and I could be now. This election defies description, plausibility, most of the even basic ideals of civility and certainly logic. Nobody knows anything about how Election Day 2016 will pan out. But keeping that in mind, this is why a Clinton/Kasich team up makes a great deal of sense.

Currently, if the polls can be any guide, Trump appears to be in a strong position to win the GOP nomination after his victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina. According to the online betting site Ladbrokes, Trump’s chances of victory in November are second only to those of one other candidate: Hillary Clinton, who is projected at having a 50/50 shot at her party’s nod.

OK, so let’s say voters fail to come to their senses and Trump is the GOP nominee. Or, perhaps worse, voters go with Ted Cruz, the extremely dangerous ideologue disguised in a Trump-lite costume.

If this happens, the Republican establishment will be coiled in the fetal position in the corner of some Ritz Carlton lobby, praying the Koch Brothers can do something, anything, to save them. Down-ballot Republican candidates will be destroyed. Republicans will lose control of Congress or come perilously close. And voters will flee the party in droves. But where will they go?

Into the open arms of Hillary Clinton, most likely, especially if she picks Kasich as her running mate. After all, no matter how much she tries to pretend otherwise (and she should stop trying!), Hillary Clinton is no progressive. She’s the very definition of liberal centrism—hawkish on foreign policy, protecting big business first and our social safety net second, continuously evolving on social issues but temperamentally favoring triangulation over throwing oneself on a pyre of principles.

The election is moving toward states that more heavily favor Hillary and I suspect that as Trump looks like a more likely victor, Democratic support for Bernie will wane. After all, we Democrats want to win. In my experience, Democrats are generally more likely than Republicans to put pragmatism ahead of principles when push comes to shove. And while in current polls, Sanders fares as well or better than Clinton in matchups against Trump, even the most liberal Democrats are ultimately unsure of whether Sanders can really win. At least Hillary is a known quantity; voters already know her warts and such.

Bernie has yet to come under remotely as much scrutiny. He could deflate like a popped balloon. And then we’d have President Trump. That’s not a risk even the most principled of Democrats are willing to take.

That’s not to say Democrats won’t continue to strongly support Bernie in the meantime but, if Trump or Cruz appear to be gaining steam, I think it will take a lot of wind out of Sanders’s sails. Either way, the good money still has Hillary winning the Democratic nomination.

Then there’s Kasich. In any normal election, in the woebegone days of the Grand Ol’ Party, Kasich would have been a shoo-in. He’s a social conservative with some economic moderate credentials from Ohio, a key swing state where is he is quite popular.

But this isn’t your grandfather’s GOP. Or even your father’s GOP. This is the Duck Dynasty GOP, and Kasich’s goose is cooked. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Kasich or Marco Rubio will win. But it doesn’t look likely, so I’d argue that the best chance Kasich has of ever becoming president is to sign on as Hillary’s veep. Conservative though he is, he’s still well to the left of his party on issues like Medicare expansion, and is roundly loathed by some of the most influential conservative activists.

So it’s hard to see Kasich endorsing Donald Trump, whom Kasich has criticized from the onset of the race. From what I know, I can’t imagine Trump’s extreme xenophobia and racist fear-mongering sitting well with Kasich. The question is whether Kasich’s love of his country, and fear of it falling into Trump’s hands, is stronger than his party loyalty. I suspect it is—in fact, I don’t think it’s close.

That leaves us with Clinton/Kasich as the Democratic ticket, with the latter allowing Hillary to clean up in the Great Lakes region, including must-win Ohio. If Trump is the GOP nominee, I suspect he’ll wrangle up a Latina leader who for reasons I’ll never understand is willing to try to distract voters from Trump’s racist, sexist, and xenophobic essence as his VP candidate—Pat Buchanan, it should be noted, tried a similar trick in 2000 when he picked the African-American Ezola Foster as his running mate. I can’t imagine who this would be. I like to think New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is more principled than this, but who knows. Like I said, it’s an unpredictable year.

Either way, this smokescreen will be insufficient. Decades of Republican extremism and hatred will finally explode in a widespread backlash. Trump is only the proximate variable, not the cause. He is Republican rhetoric coming home to roost. And while a handful of extremists will be crowing with glee at Trump’s nomination, millions will see that Republican divisiveness has gone too far and they will flee the coop.

Kasich is no moderate. The terms of an alliance with Clinton would be dicey to work out. But if Trump is the nominee, Kasich has more to gain than lose from switching sides and could become a real hero figure to actual conservatives who could see him as a moderating force in the White House. Meanwhile progressive Democrats, of which Hillary is not one, will nonetheless vote for Clinton/Kasich because, as I said, we’re a pragmatic bunch and we still want a Democrat to win more than Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.

We progressives have had to hold our noses to vote for a long time now. What’s one election more? Not that I mean to make it sound so dire. We’ll all be enthusiastically motivated to vote… against Donald Trump.