The wheels appear to be coming off of our democracy. With the field failing to consolidate, a demented billionaire is getting dangerously close to claiming the Republican Party’s nomination and then perhaps the White House.
If Donald Trump wins the South Carolina primary — he’s still 17 points ahead in the polls, even after his unhinged performance in Saturday night’s debate — he will be a juggernaut headed into Super Tuesday on March 1, when there will be more than a dozen contests.
Then, it’ll almost certainly be all over but the shouting. (And expect much more shouting.)
But it did wonders for him in New Hampshire, where he soared to No. 2, leading the pack in the “sane lane,” if not yet nipping at Trump’s heels.
In South Carolina, if the polls are to be believed, Kasich is once again going to tank.
The zigzag results suggest that Kasich is at best a regional candidate. His impressive record of government service, his cheerful demeanor and his resolutely nonideological centrism will fare relatively well in portions of the Northeast and Midwest where moderate Republicans have the upper hand.
But the same traits that make him attractive to those voters are the same ones that angry working-class voters and passionate evangelical voters in the South and other red swaths of the country are certain to reject.
In sum, Kasich is a weak regional candidate who has virtually no chance of winning the nomination for himself.
But, paradoxically, in the current situation, in weakness there is strength. The clock is ticking on the Republican contest as if it were a time bomb.
Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are the two credible, sane candidates now helping split the vote of Republicans who refuse to go over the cliff with Trump.
Kasich holds in his hands something that both Bush and Rubio would regard as priceless were it dangled before them. That something is a promise to withdraw from the race and endorse one or the other.
The winner of this transaction would get a significant boost. The other one would begin to fade. With the Republican field thereby significantly narrowed, the long-awaited consolidation would be set in motion overnight.
Finally, one candidate from the sane wing would be preeminent — and Trump and Ted Cruz would split the insurgent, anti-establishment vote, setting up a fair fight.
But what in the world does Kasich get out of this? The answer is two extremely valuable things.
The first is a reputation for statesmanship that will secure him a place in history as the man who saved the country from — heaven forfend — a Hillary Clinton, or even scarier than that, a Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders presidency.
The second is his name on a short list of promised jobs in the next administration with one highly attractive slot at its top: vice president of the United States.
Making such a trade would be a win for Kasich, a win for either Bush or Rubio (who would, on top of everything else, gain an attractive, proven vote-getting VP from a critical swing state), a win for the Republican Party, and, most significantly, a win for the country. Kasich’s donors, pouring money into a campaign doomed to fizzle, should dig their heels into his side with a spur and steer their horse in this salvific direction.
Kasich, for his part, should show his mastery of the art of the deal while there is still a deal to be had, endorse Rubio or Bush, and bail out of the race.
Schoenfeld, author of “A Bad Day on the Romney Campaign: An Insider’s Account,” was a senior adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign.