Wednesday night, July 20, in Cleveland
Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert's super-private suite at Quicken Loans Arena has a view of the floor but cannot be viewed from any angle in the arena in which the 3-day-old GOP convention seethed and often grew frenzied as Wednesday night's preliminaries to the fourth ballot got underway.
When Gilbert ushered his friend and Ohio Gov. John Kasich into the suite, Kasich was still firmly in third place behind developer Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Cruz was already seated, flanked by his towering and ever-smiling father, Pastor Rafael Cruz. At 77, the pastor was a decade and a half older than the governor and the governor roughly that much older than the senator.
"Thanks, Dan," said Kasich to Gilbert as he nodded the friend of downtown Cleveland and Detroit out the door, past waiting Secret Service and Ohio State Highway patrolmen with their distinctive charcoal grey campaign hats, gray shirts and black ties, every bit as grim as the mood inside the Republican National Committee suites one floor up.
"Hello, Ted. Pastor, thanks for joining us," began the Buckeye State governor.
"Look, here's the deal," Kasich continued. "We are stuck. And it isn't going anywhere except south unless you and I come out of here in an hour or less with a plan and a deal, and I have a proposal."
"I'm not sure about that John," interrupted the Texas senator. "I've picked up strength each of the past two ballots."
"And so have I, Ted. And we have both topped out. But hear me out. Pastor, help me out here, right? Senior man in the negotiation goes first, right?" Kasich got a smile and an approving nod from Cruz senior.
"That's why I asked you to bring your dad, Ted. He's been around. We learn things as the years go by. Here's what I have learned."
"We are each going to be president or neither of us are, and that means this."
"We come out of here and declare Kasich-Cruz is a ticket or we watch the gears grind down for six, seven ballots and hell breaks loose outside and eventually they ask Mitt or Paul Ryan and I don't even know if they take it by then. Trump's 700 are never going for you or me and my guys aren't going for you and your guys aren't going for me. That's just the way it is. That's the reality. That's what governors deal with, facts as they are, not as they'd like them to be."
"John, wait a minute..."
"Ted, just hear me out, okay. Two minutes. That's all."
"Look at the polls. I kill Hillary. You and I win 40 states, maybe more. Even if you pull this out after this fiasco you'll lose 40. Simple facts. Your team knows the numbers better than any of our groups. They know and I know you have a Hail Mary play but that's it. Versus a near sure thing as my No. 2."
"And here's the deal. I will make it clear, tonight, that you are an eight-year VP and the party is going to nominate you in 2024. Of course that isn't a legal deal but we write it the right way and everyone will be nodding and agreeing. You have eight years in the vice presidency to travel the world and learn everything you need to know to pick up after I come back here for Buckeyes football and to see my girls get married and have my grandchildren. You're 53 and you are president for eight years. That's 16 years of history, Ted, not six months. Sixteen years. It was Nixon's choice and he jumped at it, made use of every minute. He wasn't Ike's equal and you won't be mine, but you'll be a key player and you will be the nominee in 2024 with a chance of winning, not a certain loser in two days or four months."
"Now, I know it's hard. You beat me up and down the map, but truth is the party as a whole is center-right, that center-right is the dominant half of the party right now and Trump is the guy who opened the door for you. You know you need eight years with these guys to fix things or they will kill your campaign in the cradle. If you even get out of here with the nomination, and I don't think it is going that way. I just don't. I didn't bring Weaver in here because you know all this better than he does and he knows it better than anyone. You aren't getting it and if by some miracle you do, Mitch and the gang will kill you dead in the cradle."
"It is this simple. We go out together, go up and announce Kasich-Cruz, raise our hands. Hug Donald. Hug everyone. Get a team together, telegraph Romney at State, Carly at Treasury, and get this, whomever you want for Supreme Court. We'll tell them that. Tell them you will make a recommendation to me by the end of October and that I am going to accept that recommendation publicly unless the nominee has insulted my wife or my girls. We also tell them you have the lead on all judicial picks, not our AG, and that we are dead serious about remaking the courts. You'll be to the courts what Cheney was to national security in the first term."
"One more thing, then I'll let you and your dad hash it over. I have been in these rooms, Ted. I was there in the '80s. I was there when W steamrolled us in 2000. I've won fourteen elections, Ted. You have won one. And you don't know these Clinton people. I do, oh do I know them. You won't beat Hillary. She'll kill you. I know them. I can beat them. But I need you and, frankly, you need me."
"That's it. That's my pitch. Turn me down and together we watch a great dramatic meltdown that ends in a catastrophe for the party and worse for the country. Could even be a miniseries. Might take a couple of weeks. Eventually Mitt or Paul will try and put the pieces together but everyone — everyone — will leave angry. Everyone. You and I do a deal, well, Donald understands deals. We'll give him a lot to do. We'll even give him the fence to oversee the building of. He can run the renegotiation of TPP. Kasich-Cruz will get out of here banged up but moving forward. We can beat her. But you can't. You won't even get the nomination."
"Think about it," said Kasich, rising. "Pastor, I asked you to listen in and of course you can tell him to tell me to pound sand but I don't think you will. It's the right thing, pastor, Ted. The right thing. And the only thing. I'm down the hall in another of these special rooms Dan built — Quite a place, isn't it? —and my guys in the hats will come and get me when you want to talk some more."
Kasich left, and the senator turned to his father.
To be continued.
Hugh Hewitt is a nationally syndicated talk radio host, law professor at Chapman University's Fowler School of Law, and author, most recently of The Queen: The Epic Ambition of Hillary and the Coming of a Second "Clinton Era." He posts daily at HughHewitt.com and is on Twitter @hughhewitt.