A top aide to Sen. Marco Rubio urged the candidate’s supporters in Ohio to support Gov. John Kasich in that state’s primary Tuesday, giving fresh momentum to efforts stop Donald Trump a day after a debate in which his rivals declined to take a swing at the leading Republican presidential candidate.
Alex Conant, Rubio’s spokesman, made the comments in an interview with CNN. He said that he hoped supporters of Kasich and of Sen. Ted Cruz would support Rubio in his home state primary in Florida on Tuesday, and that he would suggest Rubio’s backers in Ohio do the same by supporting Kasich there.
“I’m just stating the obvious,” Conant said. “If you are a Republican primary voter in Ohio and you want to defeat Donald Trump, your best chance in Ohio is John Kasich, because John Kasich is the sitting governor, he’s very close to Donald Trump in some of the polls there.”
He said the reverse was true in Rubio’s home state, suggesting that supporters of Kasich and Cruz back Rubio there.
The remarks dovetail with a strategy proposed by Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 nominee, who urged Republicans opposing Trump to coalesce around the leading non-Trump candidate in coming nominating contests to deny the nomination to Trump.
Conant said, “’My answer is John Kasich is the one candidate in Ohio that can beat Donald Trump. That’s stating the obvious; that is indisputable.”
In a news conference in West Palm Beach, Florida, Rubio echoed the sentiment, but did not go as far in urging his supporters to back Kasich in Ohio.
“Clearly John Kasich has a better chance than winning Ohio than I do,” Rubio told reporters. And if Ohioans concluded that the best way to stop Trump was to vote for Kasich, the Florida senator said, “I expect that’s the decision they’ll make.”
Asked directly if he was urging his people to vote for Kasich in Ohio, he said of his spokesman, “I’ll leave it for John to make that argument.”
And Cruz, speaking in Orlando on Friday, dismissed the strategy, indulging in a laugh when asked about it.
“It’s the Washington establishment’s last gasp: ‘Let’s divide things up. Let’s play games,’” Cruz said in a taped interview with Fox News. “It’s real, real simple. How do you beat Donald Trump? You beat him.”
Cruz argued, as he has for weeks, that he was the only candidate still capable of doing so.
Those hoping to defeat Trump acknowledge that if he wins either Ohio or Florida, it becomes much harder to deny him the nomination.
But Chris Schrimpf, a spokesman for Kasich, naturally welcomed the idea of having Rubio’s supporters back the governor in Tuesday’s voting in Ohio.
“We agree with the Rubio campaign that the best chance to beat Donald Trump in Ohio is by voting for John Kasich.” Schrimpf said, “And in that spirit, Senator Rubio should immediately tell his super PAC to stop attacking the governor.”