Stuart K. Spencer, California’s grand master Republican strategist, who has just been hired as a consultant by John Kasich, has three key words of advice for the Ohio governor’s GOP convention game plan: simple, suspense and surprise.
“Why am I doing this? Because I’ve spent my life trying to keep the Republican Party together and this may be the last chance,” Stu, an old friend and a certified Great Man, told Calbuzz on Wednesday.
“I’m not a spokesman for the Kasich campaign and I only talked to them yesterday,” he said. “The last thing we should be doing is talking tactically or strategically or talking about the process.”
Old Reagan Hand. Kasich, who trails far behind Donald Trump in delegates, has acknowledged that the only way for him to win the GOP presidential nomination is at an open convention; that would come about only if Trump fails in the remaining primaries and caucuses to capture the 1,237 delegates needed for a first-ballot victory when Republicans gather in Cleveland this summer.
If that admittedly long shot scenario plays out, bringing Spencer on board sure improves his chances of pulling it off.
The 89-year old Spencer ran Ronald Reagan’s gubernatorial campaigns in 1966 and 1970 and presidential campaigns in 1980 and 1984. He said that Kasich will confront a three-front war in Cleveland: 1) a Trump delegation composed mostly of neophytes in party procedures and operations; 2) Ted Cruz delegates who are evangelical purists with considerable organizational expertise and; 3) delegates previously pledged to the dropped-out Marco Rubio, who would be up for grabs.
“And those three fronts could form a coalition along the line somewhere,” Spencer said.
Stu agreed that Kasich has a persuasive case for being the only candidate standing who could actually defeat Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic nominee. However, he added: “That’s a good argument, but that doesn’t necessarily get you there with the delegate group that’s going to be there.”
Kasich – and, of course, Trump and Cruz as well – will try to convince Rubio’s delegates that he’s the only genuine conservative Republican who stands a chance against Clinton. “My hope is they’re making those calls to those people today,” Spencer said.
Spencer confirmed that he and Charlie Black, another Republican warhorse, have been hired to be on call for consultations, as reported by Politico. The two GOP warriors were on opposite sides of the last GOP convention struggle, in 1976. Then Spencer was working for Gerald Ford’s presidential re-election, and Black for Reagan’s unsuccessful insurgent challenge.
Times They Are a-Changin. Spencer has not yet talked to the candidate, he said. But he stressed that the game has changed radically since his heyday, when white voters were in the majority. “All the old rules we played by aren’t applicable any more,” said Spencer who forcefully argued in 1997 that the GOP had to reach out to Latino voters or risk extinction.
“Old white men aren’t going to win the general election,” Spencer told us. And while it drives him crazy that the leading GOP contenders are driving Latinos away from the party, “I’m Irish enough that I can have a drink. Or call all my Mexican friends and complain.”
For his part, Trump appears to be preparing for Cleveland, not by seeking to cut deals for more delegates, but by threatening violence if he is denied.
“I think we’ll win before we get to the convention,” Trump told CNN on Wednesday morning. “But I can tell you, if we didn’t, and if we’re 20 votes short, or if we’re 100 short, and we’re at 1,100, and somebody else is at 500 or 400 – because we’re way ahead of everybody – I don’t think you can say that we don’t get it automatically. I think you’d have riots.”
At an open convention, however, that still might not make him the nominee.
As for Kasich, whatever he does in Cleveland, Stu told Calbuzz, “It’s got to be simple, there has to be suspense and there has to be a surprise involved.”