In his dreams, John Kasich must see himself there – the hometown underdog celebrating his triumph at the Republican National Convention under the bright lights, standing on an elaborate stage in Cleveland in prime time in July in the state over which he reigns as governor. Thousands are cheering, millions are watching as Kasich answers his party’s call.
Beaming, waving, with his family by his side, he declares, “Only in America could the son of a mailman become the Republican nominee for president of the United States!”
The dream is so brilliant, so intense, it must awaken him each night, causing him to bolt upright and scream, like Gene Wilder in “Young Frankenstein,” “It – could – work!”
Like the Harry Potter villain “He Who Must Not Be Named,” we don’t need to know anything about John Kasich except to buy into his mantra that he is “The Only One Who Can Beat Hillary.” Just read the polls, darnit!
Never mind that the polls say that he’s also the only one who can beat Hillary because of one reason – he’s the only one who has not been taken seriously enough for anyone to spend any real money attacking him and driving up his negatives. Most of the nation has seen nothing but Happy John, the common sense Midwesterner, the “I can do for the nation what I did for Ohio” optimist.
But already, in the unlikely event that Kasich’s brokered convention scenario becomes reality, the unions are poised to unload on him, with the AFL-CIO already circulating attacks like, “Kasich proposed a plan in 2013 that… raised taxes on the poorest 60% of Ohio residents while the top 1% saw an average tax cut of $10,369.” And, “As governor, Kasich cut funding for education by $700 million and funding for nursing homes by $340 million.” And, “Kasich… said he opposes government-required paid sick days for workers.”
Kasich’s 2016 incarnation as a warm and fuzzy presidential candidate is in direct contrast to the Kasich known by anyone who has interacted with him throughout his public life, whether in Congress or Columbus.
Writer Molly Ball summed it up succinctly in a 2015 profile in The Atlantic, “The thing about John Kasich is, he’s kind of a jerk. Lobbyists in Columbus warn their clients before meeting the governor not to take it personally if he berates them. A top Ohio Republican donor once publicly vowed not to give Kasich a penny after finding him to be ‘unpleasantly arrogant.’… and when Kasich was thrown out of a Grateful Dead concert for trying to join the band onstage, he allegedly threatened to use his clout to have the band banned from D.C.”
Fair? Not entirely. But the point is, the arrows are in the quiver and ready to be unleashed if Kasich ever becomes the nominee. His negatives would rise like the burden he imposed on local governments to balance the state budget.
But the governor is confident. He was born confident. Lest we forget, he first decided he was ready to be president more than 16 years ago. He declared himself a candidate in 1999, then folded up the tent just a couple of months later. CNN reported at the time, “Kasich said the response he received from voters in Iowa and New Hampshire was encouraging. But he also said they told him that it wasn’t his time to run for president.”
Fast forward 16 years, and – ring, ring, ring – what time is it? Time to run for president!
So far in the primaries and caucuses, Kasich has amassed a record of 1-41, including states and territories, with the “one” being Ohio, where the backing of the Ohio Republican Party helped carry him to victory. But winning one of 41 is enough to convince him he has the Big Momentum.
On the Sunday shows, he lets out that big, jolly Hillary laugh before the first question can even be asked. “Look” is his favorite word. Kasich uses the word “look” before almost every answer to every question. It’s a word that implies, hey, look, quit asking me stupid questions, like why I keep running with no mathematical chance to win the nomination during the primary process.
“Governor, Ted Cruz says you should get out of the race. How do you respond?”
“Look,” a typical Kasich response begins, “that’s inside baseball. People don’t care about that, Chuck. People care about jobs and the economy and how they’re gonna pay for Aunt Betsy’s root canal. That’s what people care about, Chuck. Folksy people like me understand that. Look, you guys need to quit talkin’ about stuff people don’t care about. Hahahahaha.”
In fact, Kasich has mostly done a good job as governor. He would probably make a good president. Trouble is, of the three remaining candidates, Kasich is the least favorite among Republican voters. That does not deter him. He knows what’s best.
If he would just be who most know him to be – Grumpy John – he would probably fare better in a year when anger is the top motivator of the electorate. The Trump campaign proclaims internally, “Let Trump Be Trump.” Likewise, the governor’s advisors should have insisted, “Let Kasich Be Kasich.”
But Kasich drop out? Not likely, even though he’s 1-41 – likely 1-46 after Tuesday – trailing even the departed Marco Rubio in delegates, and polling dead last, even in neighboring states Pennsylvania and Indiana, areas which, a couple of months ago, he insisted would be ripe for the Kasich message.
In fact, on Sunday, he and Cruz announced a joint strategy to stop Trump, with Kasich focusing on some states, Cruz focusing on the rest. This is what Kasich and Cruz have been reduced to – tag-team spoilers, hoping to set up a result where the delegates decide the winner in Cleveland, instead of the voters in the primaries and caucuses.
Why not step aside with dignity? Because there’s a big stage waiting in Ohio. Thousands cheering. Millions watching. Confetti and balloons dropping. Kasich to the rescue. The dream is too strong to abandon.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.