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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Candidate Profile: #6. John Kasich

For background to this series, click here. For previous posts in the series:

Tier 4--They Know They Can't Win
16. George Pataki
(15.5. James Gilmore)
15. Lindsey Graham
14. Carly Fiorina

Tier 3--We Know They Can't Win
13. Rick Santorum
12. Mike Huckabee
11. Donald Trump
10. Bobby Jindal

Tier 2--So You're Saying There's a Chance!
9. Rick Perry
8. Ben Carson
7. Ted Cruz

As we enter the top six, it's worth noting that the remaining six candidates are also, in some order, the six most viable general election candidates. (See bottom category of each entry.) That is not a coincidence. I see the trend of the last two elections--that of Republicans nominating moderates who can do well with independent voters instead of conservative ideologues who randy up the base--continuing. The top six has one exception to that, but for reasons I'll get into, I still find him one of the six most likely Republicans to win a general election as well.

But we'll get to him later. For now, the sixth most likely Republican nominee is . . .

John Kasich, 63, Governor of Ohio, 2011-current

Campaign Website and Slogan--www.johnkasich.com--He announces today! Therefore, the website hasn't gotten going and he has no official slogan yet.

Ideology on liberal-conservative spectrum (-10 is far left and +10 is far right. A center moderate is 0.): +3.25 (Individual rights: +5; domestic issues: +7; economy: +5; foreign policy: -4). Very interesting. Like #9 Rick Perry, the most conservative governor in the field, Kasich brandishes a +5 or higher on all domestic matters. However, his foreign policy clocks in at a negative four. That number stems from his belief on not overspending on the military, avoiding unilateral action abroad, and continuing to be involved with the United Nations.

Conservative Rank based on above: 13 of 16. Remove that foreign policy figure, however, and he'd be at +5.67 for 8th place, just behind Scott Walker and more conservative than Mike Huckabee.

Spin from the candidate's campaign--The campaign hasn't quite begun yet, but they'll hammer home that he is the most complete candidate in the field. His political career stretches back to 1978, when he became an Ohio state senator. Four years later, he ran for and won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and went on to be re-elected eight times before leaving on his own accord. During that stretch, he rose to become the Chairman of the House Budget Committee in 1995. In the previous year, the U.S. had a deficit of $163 billion. His fiscal conservatism and Budget Committee leadership helped the United States turn that into a $236 billion surplus by the time he left the House in 2001. It was America's first surplus since 1969. He left politics to work in television, hosting a show on Fox News and publishing bestselling books. He served on the board of several corporations. By the time he got back into politics a decade after leaving it, he had gained experience in media and the private sector.

He then won the 2010 Ohio gubernatorial election over incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland. Last year, he was re-elected by over a 30-point spread. And let's remember, this isn't some Deep South red state that rubber stamps the Republican nominee.  This is Ohio, the purplest of states. Yet that didn't stop Kasich from earning enormous popularity. He won 86 of 88 counties, including those that encompass urban Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland. Two years earlier, Cuyahoga County, home of Cleveland, voted for Obama over Romney by a spread of 40 points, and yet the Republican Kasich won it. He now maintains an amazing 61-28 favorable rating, one of the best in the nation. After Kasich's State of the State address this year, conservative political commentator David Brooks noted that the Governor focused on core Republican values, mixing in Christian and small government themes. But he also "celebrated government workers," unlike a certain Wisconsin governor that will scare away every union in the country. (Brooks also calls Kasich "easily the most underestimated Republican this year.")

In sum, this straight-shooting (click the link for some cool quotes), plain-talking, conservative, has experience in Congress (where he was a primary architect of balanced the budget), the media, the business world, and as an executive of a large state. And he's never lost an election in his life. You want to beat Hillary Clinton?  Here's your candidate.

Spin from opponents--Why do you think he did so well in Ohio? He says he's a Republican but he too often talks like a Democrat. Look at his record:
  • In the Nineties he earned an "F" from the NRA after helping to ban assault weapons. That grade later improved as he moved to the right on the issue, but when he challenged for Ohio Governor in 2010, the NRA actually endorsed his Democratic opponent.
  • At a Koch-organized conference, he defended accepting the Medicaid expansion of Obamacare in his state by telling an angry top-level party contributor, "When I get to the Pearly Gates, I'm going to have to answer for what I've done for the poor." That response caused about 20 audience members to walk out and two governors to openly reject his statement. He hasn't been invited back to a Koch seminar.
  • He supported Common Core and continues to defend that position.
  • He's frighteningly moderate on immigration, once favoring a path to citizenship while still against deportation.
  • He says there's a problem with the climate.
Yes, there are other issues where his conservatism shines through, most notably on abortion and fiscal issues, but isn't that list enough to revoke his Republican credentials? Republicans not only need someone who highlights conservatism's strengths, but also a candidate who will go after Hillary Clinton. However, he's resisted doing so. Once, at a Kasich event in Iowa, an audience member took Clinton to task on her email controversy. He responded to this potential voter: "I'm more worried about what we're going to do to fix America than I am about Hillary's (email) server." He is not ready for this fight.

How do the polls look?--Uh oh. His RCP national average is a microscopic 1.5, which is tied for 11th place in the field with #13 Rick Santorum. In Iowa, he has an average of 1.8 percent support for 14th place, which is only above #16 George Pataki, #15.5 James Gilmore, and #15 Lindsey Graham, This company might make you wonder why Kasich is #6. Patience, my young Padawans. Patience. In New Hampshire he's at 2.0 for 12th. In South Carolina he's not registering, putting him behind the 12 candidates who are.

Yeah. Uh oh.

PPFA analysis--In defense of his polling numbers, remember that he is the only candidate who hasn't declare yet. Usually, declaring one's candidacy results in a polling bump as people who were waiting for a candidate to appear in a poll can finally support him or her, while the media starts talking about this candidate and more voters get to know him or her. Today's announcement will probably help to the tune of a couple polling points which, in this field, would be enough to move him from 12th to 9th. He would then qualify for the August 6 Fox News debate.

At the debate, he could remedy the other cause of his bad polling numbers: nobody knows who he is! A spring PPP poll determined he had the least name recognition of any candidate in the field--a laughably low 36 percent, nine points back of #14 Carly Fiorina in next to last. In one way, that's an obvious disadvantage; people won't vote for someone they've never heard of. But in another way, it shows why someone like Kasich has a better chance at the nomination than other well-known candidates who are polling higher (I'm looking at you, #11 Donald Trump). In this month's national Suffolk poll, Trump and Bush were out in front at 17 and 14 percent, but undecided voters accounted for nearly 30 percent. That's twice as much as what the leaders were getting. If 30 percent of voters are still waiting to make up their minds, that also means they're waiting for the right candidate. Kasich might strike them the right way, and he could quickly become a factor. Then there will be the period when voters jump ship from the inevitability sinking campaigns of half the Republican armada; if Kasich is there with life rafts, he could win their support.

My biggest question about him: is he a poor man's Jeb Bush or a rich man's George Pataki? While they were both governors on the moderate side of the Republican spectrum, they seem to bookend these 17 candidates in likelihood of winning the nomination. If he's a rich man's Pataki, things won't end well for his campaign. Just being a competent, moderate governor of a large state, if slightly more viable nationally, is all well and good, but without a more colorful personality, it won't translate to the rest of the country. If Kasich patakis his way through an uninteresting campaign, he'll endure the same fate as the former New York Governor.

But if he's a poor man's Jeb Bush, things will get interesting. His hope is to be the establishment candidate for those who don't want another Bush. It's not an unrealistic desire. As we've seen with media coverage, fundraising and polling numbers, Bush is obviously the moderate-ish establishment candidate of choice. However, the anti-Jeb sentiments (expanded on here, here, here, here, and here) in the Republican Party mirror and might prove to be stronger than the anti-Romney movement of 2012. If the third Bush coronation is indeed cancelled, to where does the king's court turn?

Kasich thinks it'll be him. In a recent New Hampshire visit, he took a dig at Bush's flailing front-runner status, pointing out, "I thought Jeb would just suck all the air out of the room, and it just hasn’t happened." Kasich is hoping that when the time comes for the establishment to back another horse, they'll look for a fiscally conservative executive with a record moderate enough for November, one who doesn't alienate people with divisive language or extreme opinions, and is, most importantly, electable. Kasich fits that mold perfectly, with Ohio's practically assured 18 electoral votes as a cherry on top. A couple deep looks at him online from Politico and FiveThirtyEight see him as a contender with this strategy.

In final analysis--or, at least, as final as an analysis can be six months before the Iowa Caucus--it's surely a possibility that the people can turn on Bush. People then turning to Kasich, however, is less likely. For one, they can't turn to someone they haven't heard of, and we have yet to see if the "announcement bump followed by debate success" plan will actually develop. Is there enough time between today's announcement and the first debate to qualify him for it? He'll need to rapidly rise into the top ten. And then can he win Republicans over on a stage of ten? That also remains to be seen.

And those are just the most immediate hurdles. Much more important in the long run is if he can get enough separation from Jeb Bush on more than just the name. If Jeb Bush is going down in the general election, his name will surely be a factor. If he's going down in the primary, however, his name will actually be more of a help. A CNN/ORC poll from two months ago has George W. Bush's approval rating among Republicans at 88 percent and among conservatives at 73 percent. So, in the Republican Primary, the Bush name actually isn't an awkward drag on Jeb. It's an unfurled sail.

What, then, might take him down in a primary? According to conservative camps (see links from four paragraphs ago), it's his less than conservative platform, including one issue that might be dominant over all others in the primary, which Bush, according to most Republicans, is on the wrong side of.  That issue is his moderate stance on immigration. I'll get more into that at a later post, but Bush has hijacked this one for long enough.

The relevance here is that if Bush crumbles due to his stance on immigration or his general "left of far right" ideology, Kasich cannot be the alternative, because he is also left of far right on immigration. A secondary issue--Bush's support of Common Core--is also held by Kasich. If Kasich doesn't offer alternate positions than the establishment's front-runner, Bush's fading support, if that even ever happens, would probably head elsewhere.

Thus, Kasich might indeed be a poor man's Jeb Bush, but that could be exactly what keeps him from getting the nomination. Meanwhile, he still might still turn out to be a rich man's Pataki. Losing the Kochs and being prickly toward Republican voters shows he might not be a candidate of the Republican establishment after all.

PPFA nomination rank--6 of 16 (Odds: 16:1). Candidates like #7 Ted Cruz, #8 Ben Carson, and #9 Rick Perry are all more exciting candidates for the conservative base, but that's kind of the point.  If party elders are still strong enough to control the process, they won't let those candidates win. Kasich, however, is extremely electable in a general, and beating Hillary Clinton is extremely important to these elders. Therefore, Kasich's electability puts him above that conservative trio ranked lower in Tier 2. Still, until he starts polling better and ups his name recognition, it's hard to put him into the top five. It's very important he gets into the debates.

PPFA general election rank--2 of 16. Yeah, pretty good. His +3.25 conservatism could look very good in a general election, especially with his tamer foreign policy being put in front of a war-weary country. His complete resume makes him a candidate moderates could embrace. He'd show very well in general election debates with his frank, no-nonsense attitude. And then there's Ohio, so he expands the map without taking away from it elsewhere. The establishment might happily turn to him because of these factors.

2 comments:

Stevie K said...

OHIO. Yeah, that's huge. But I don't like Kasich's cadence, which I saw for the first time in his announcement speech. I think it'll hurt him in the Aug. 6 debate (which PPFA has got me interested in watching!).

Americans are not as war-weary as they were in the past several elections, and so I think Kasich's tame foreign-policy could become a liability. A survey in February found: "A new CBS News poll shows 57 percent of Americans favor sending ground troops to combat the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. That includes at least 50 percent of Republicans, Democrats and independents and is up from 47 percent in October." (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2015/02/19/the-american-people-arent-very-war-weary-anymore-but-washington-still-is) I think the failed effort to control ISIS will become a growing liability for the Democratic candidate.

Like the usage of "patakis" as an adjective.

IC said...

Great comment as always, Stevie K. I wonder if anyone else reads the column...

As for "patakis," it's from the Greek from "going nowhere fast." There's no good direct translation. What do you want from me?

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