By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate John Kasich portrayed himself on Tuesday as an antidote to what he called the divisive politics of rivals Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and criticized them as wanting to take the United States down a "path of darkness."
Kasich's "two paths" speech in New York City was an effort to distinguish himself from both Trump and Trump's chief rival for the Republican presidential nomination, U.S. Senator Cruz of Texas, and carve out a space for himself as a positive, reasonable conservative.
House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, often seen by establishment Republicans as an option for Republicans should the party become deadlocked over its nominee, scheduled an afternoon speech in Washington. He was expected to rule himself out again as a candidate for the nomination this year.
"He's going to rule himself out and put this to rest once and for all," an aide to Ryan said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Kasich - running a distant third behind Trump and Cruz and with no chance of capturing the Republican nomination unless he can emerge from a contested convention in July - did not mention Trump and Cruz by name but left no doubt as to who he was talking about.
He lashed out at Trump proposals to deport 11 million illegal immigrants and impose protectionist trade policies. He ridiculed Cruz's idea for a business flat tax, calling it a value-added tax. These are examples of a path of darkness, he said.
"Some who feed off of the fears and anger that is felt by some of us and exploit it feed their own insatiable desire for fame or attention. That could drive America down into a ditch, not make us great again," Kasich said, referring to Trump's signature line.
As 14 other rivals have dropped out of the race, Kasich has doggedly stayed in even though he has underperformed, winning only his home state of Ohio. But his goal is to emerge from a contested convention as a unifying nominee for the November general election, one who polls well against Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
"A united America is undefeatable," Kasich said. "We are an exceptional country."
Whether his speech will have an impact on the race at this late stage is far from certain.
Trump is favored to win New York state's Republican primary contest on April 19. He holds a huge lead in opinion polls there, with Kasich running a distant second and Cruz in third place.
A victory for Trump would help tamp down concerns among his supporters that he is suddenly vulnerable after Cruz beat him in Wisconsin last week and won all Republican delegates in Colorado on Saturday.
In some good news for Trump, he was formally declared the winner of Missouri's Republican primary, which was held on March 15.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)