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John Kasich is dropping out of the Republican race — leaving Trump as the last man standing

Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

John Kasich has finally admitted what's been obvious for months — he can't win the Republican nomination.

On Wednesday, NBC's Andrea Mitchell reported that the Ohio governor would suspend his campaign.

Coming on the heels of Ted Cruz's withdrawal from the race Tuesday night, Kasich's decision leaves Donald Trump as the only candidate remaining in the race, and the unquestioned presumptive nominee of the Republican Party.

Kasich's announcement is essentially a formality. He was mathematically eliminated from winning a delegate majority back in mid-March. He only ever managed to win one contest, his home state of Ohio. And he'll conclude the race with a mere 155 delegates, a total that puts him behind not only Trump and Cruz but also the long-gone Marco Rubio.

Still, the governor pressed onward with his campaign, in the quixotic hope that Trump would fall short of a delegate majority, and that a contested convention would ensue and for some reason hand the nomination to him.

Cruz's withdrawal forecloses that possibility, assuring Trump will clinch the majority he needs. So, at long last, John Kasich has decided to call it quits.

Video: Watch Ted Cruz drop out of the race on Tuesday night

Kasich was never a good fit for the 2016 GOP

Kasich's strategy for victory in the primaries seemed odd from the get-go, because he had infuriated large swaths of the conservative movement by backing Obamacare's Medicaid expansion in Ohio, as I described when I profiled him back in July.

Indeed, Kasich didn't just support the expansion — he used executive power to ram it through over Republican objections in the legislature. And he used religious rhetoric to attack his opponents, arguing that they weren't helping the poor like Jesus would want.

So despite his past record in Congress as a spending cutter and deficit hawk (it's very clear that Kasich is no liberal overall), it was clear that Kasich couldn't win over the right in a presidential bid.

Naturally, he instead emphasized his differences with the rest of the field, hoping his willingness to defy the GOP party line would be a selling point in New Hampshire, an independent-minded state where any voter can participate in the GOP primary.

A victory there, Kasich hoped, would prove that he's the candidate who could best win in the fall and rally much of the party establishment to his side for that reason (even though hardcore conservative activists would remain reluctant).

Kasich only did well in a couple of states

Kasich didn't get that Granite State victory — but he did come in second place behind Donald Trump and ahead of his fellow "establishment lane" competitors Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Chris Christie. That gave him a pretext to remain in the race.

But he performed dismally practically everywhere else in the first six weeks of voting. By the morning of March 15 — when 23 states had already voted — Kasich had won zero of them, and had only managed second place in three. At that point, he had a mere 63 delegates — several hundred behind Trump and Cruz, and even well behind Marco Rubio.

That night, however, he found another pretext to stay in the race, when he won his home state of Ohio (and Marco Rubio failed to win his own home state of Florida). Now that Rubio, Bush, and Christie were all out of the race, Kasich hoped, he'd be the last establishment-friendly non-Trump candidate standing.

Again, though, voters refused to go along. In most remaining states, voters who opposed Trump flocked to Cruz, not Kasich. And in the past few weeks, they've stopped flocking to either. So now Kasich has finally given up the ghost and withdrawn.

Did Kasich's candidacy end up helping Donald Trump?

Kasich may be gone from the race, but his true impact on this year's GOP race will be debated for some time.

Some commentators have argued that by staying in the race even after it was clear he had little chance in most of the country, Kasich hurt establishment-friendly candidates like Rubio and helped Trump rack up delegates with plurality victories.

Bloomberg View's Jonathan Bernstein, for instance, asked whether John Kasich was "single-handedly destroying" the Republican Party by remaining in the race so long. "There’s a decent argument that he single-handedly destroyed Marco Rubio, who almost certainly would have had many more delegates if Kasich had dropped out when it made sense to," Bernstein wrote.

I'm deeply skeptical of the argument that Kasich killed Rubio. Dave Wasserman made this case at FiveThirtyEight, but he used some very favorable assumptions for Rubio (that he'd get every single one of Kasich's voters on and before March 1/Super Tuesday), and still found that post–Super Tuesday, Rubio would have been in third place behind Trump and Cruz, and would have won only two more states (Virginia and Vermont).

Furthermore, Rubio's loss of his home state to Trump was so resounding (he lost by nearly 19 percentage points!) and so longstanding (Rubio never led a single Florida poll!) that I suspect the Florida senator's candidacy would have ended up in the same place.

Kasich's decision to stay in for a while after March 15 has also been hotly debated. RealClearPolitics' Sean Trende, for instance, argued that Kasich was handing the nomination to Trump by staying in. In a three-way race, Trende argued, Trump could keep racking up plurality victories. But in a two-way Trump vs. Cruz race, there would be a chance to finally consolidate the anti-Trump voters around one candidate.

Yet Kasich was basically a non-factor in April anyway. He didn't prevent Cruz from winning Wisconsin handily, and Cruz was so weak in the Northeast that Kasich could hardly be blamed for holding him back there.

Furthermore, Trump finally started to get outright majority wins consistently — first in New York, then in five Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states the following week, and finally in Indiana on Tuesday. So it's hard to blame Kasich for that.

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