Is John Kasich getting too much media coverage?

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Story highlights

  • Jeremy Carl, who's backing Ted Cruz, says there's no realistic way the Ohio governor could get the GOP nomination
  • Carl: So why is Kasich being treated as a serious candidate?

Jeremy Carl is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. Follow him:@jeremycarl4 The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)With the Sunday night announcement of his alliance with Ted Cruz to stop Donald Trump, John Kasich has, unfortunately, once again stepped into the presidential campaign spotlight.

Jeremy Carl
Much has been made, for good reason, of the disproportionate media coverage that Donald Trump has attracted during the presidential campaign. According to data provided by the GDELT Project, which tracks television mentions of candidates, Trump has received 60% of all GOP candidate mentions on national networks since voting began. In the last 30 days, Trump has received 70% of candidate coverage while Ted Cruz has received 15% and John Kasich 10%.
    While I believe the media does bear responsibility for the extreme divergence between Trump's level of support (he has taken just 38% of the vote in the GOP primaries) and his level of coverage (one respected source estimated Trump had received more than $2 billion in free media, more than six times that of any other GOP candidate) I can also understand it.
    Trump is a celebrity and a natural showman from America's media capitol who attracts press attention like flame attracts moths. He also plays to the worst impressions of the GOP shared by liberal journalists, who are only too eager to amplify his voice. As a vessel for conservative ideas and policies, he's largely terrible, but as a carnival barker he is outstanding.
    The media attention lavished on Kasich, a fringe candidate who has been treated by the mainstream media as a serious contender, is far less excusable. The damage from this is now yet again apparent as he has effectively held the anti-Trump movement hostage with his latest move, only agreeing to stop his futile campaign in the crucial state of Indiana in exchange for Cruz withdrawing from New Mexico and Oregon, two states where he very likely would have beaten both Kasich and Trump.
    Kasich has received two-thirds of the media coverage of Cruz, who, from the moment he won the Iowa caucuses has been one of the top two contenders for the GOP nomination, despite the fact that Kasich has as much chance of becoming the GOP nominee as I do. The excessive and fawning coverage given to Kasich has deformed the GOP race. (In full disclosure, I have recently endorsed Sen. Cruz.)
    From the beginning of the campaign Kasich took his place at the left-most flank of the GOP debate criticizing conservative proposals as heartless and winning the support of left-wing editorial boards like the New York Times.
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    When Kasich, in typical fashion, told the Washington Post editorial board last week that, "Frankly my party doesn't like ideas," Republicans rolled their eyes, but the media played it up breathlessly and it was a top story for several days. Kasich serves as a useful proxy for the media, which leans consistently to the left -- a way for them to criticize the GOP without having to do so directly. And with his relentless critiques of the party and the other candidates in the race he has done much to play into press biases against conservatives. And these biases are often substantial. Obama and other Democrats took 88% of the political donations of employees of ABC, CBS and NBC in 2008. It's not a coincidence that Kasich won the GOP vote in Manhattan (while losing New York overall by 35%) and almost won Washington, D.C. -- the two dominant homes of the political media.
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    But while the media loves Kasich, GOP primary voters never have. In the first 41 contests of the GOP primary season, he's been under 5% in 13 contests and under 10% in eight additional contests. Excluding his home state of Ohio, he has gotten more than 20% of the vote in only Michigan, Vermont, D.C. and New York. The latter three were Obama's best states/territories in 2012, outside of his home state of Hawaii.
    But even his modest support has paled in comparison to his competitors. Trump has won 22 contests and Cruz 11. Trump has been under 20% in only a few contests and Cruz failed to break 20% in just seven states. The notion that Kasich could win the nomination is preposterous.
    In speaking with GOP insiders who have a deep understanding of the party's delegate allocation process, I haven't met a single person, who believes Kasich has any chance to be the party's nominee. Kasich is regularly pilloried in the conservative media as "delusional" "selfish" and "the dumbest man in America" (to pick just a few recent epithets).
    But in the mainstream, media, one gets a totally different impression of Kasich's candidacy, both in the quantity and positive slant of his coverage. Unfortunately, the media's indulgence of Kasich's delusional campaign has real consequences.
    Voters in Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states will be casting ballots Tuesday. These are the last stronghold of liberal and moderate East Coast voters in heavily Democratic states with whom Kasich has done (relatively) well. Because the media consistently fosters the illusion that Kasich that Kasich is running a serious campaign for the nomination, he figures to win a significant number of votes in these states that would otherwise go to Cruz.
    Because the pro-Kasich media has not reported accurately on the state of the race, many voters will go to the polls in these states thinking they are protesting against Trump by boosting a serious alternative when all they are doing is to help ensure that Trump will be the GOP nominee.
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    One sees how media coverage deforms the race through recent New York exit polls. For those who 24% of voters who "never" would accept Trump as the nominee 72% voted for Kasich. But those supposedly anti-Trump voters are voting for the one candidate whose presence in the race most helps Trump. There is a fundamental logical disconnect at work.
    Knowledgeable conservatives vary on their assessment of Kasich's motives. Prior to his announcement with Cruz, many conservatives concluded that Kasich must be allied with Trump, in hopes that he will be selected as Trump's VP, and because his presence in the race was, and continues to be, an huge boon to Trump's candidacy. In fact, Kasich supporter Sen. James Inhofe explicitly offered this rationale this week when asked to defend his endorsement.
    It is safe to say that most Kasich voters aren't supporting him because they want Trump to be the nominee. But they have been misled by a media that has played up his hopeless fringe candidacy, in no small part because the media liked what Kasich was saying. In a campaign season that has offered its fair share of low moments from politicians and journalists, the media's continued enabling of John Kasich may be the most disappointing failure of all.