Standing on the far right of the debate stage in Cleveland last Thursday, a geographic position that describes John Kasich’s geopolitical compass heading after nearly 40 years as a professional performance politician, the twice-elected Ohio governor watched the fireworks along with millions of others who tuned into the Fox News Channel’s televised debate.

Republican poll leader Donald Trump and Fox moderator Megyn Kelly engaged in a war of words over women and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul fired at each other over cybersecurity and tapping Americans’ phones.  Ohio’s governor seemed happy to watch these skirmishes play out since Trump, Christie and Paul are all out polling him so far.

Talking Points Delivered

When he did speak, the governor who barely squeezed past Texas Gov. Rick Perry with poll ratings in the low single digits was on his best behavior, not acting like the jerky governor one national reporter after another has written about him after spending some time with him. To his credit, he didn’t out-right flub his answers like others did, although the veracity behind his answers is full of holes. Kasich summoned his inner discipline, pivoting to his established, upbeat script about his time as chief executive of the ultimate battle ground state, which earlier in the day was gored badly by national and state Democrats.

Kasich Relishes Underdog Status

“They said I wouldn’t get in to begin with, I did; then they said he can’t’ raise the money, and I did; then they said he’s announcing to late, but we did; and now they say how did he get in, and then they’re saying he did really well tonight,” Kasich told Fox News’s Sean Hannity.

Hannity then T-balled a question the plumply pleased governor took a good swing at, “Are you surprised by that?

“I’ve always been underestimated, you know that, just like you. And that’s a good thing, I hope they keep underestimating me, it will make life easier,” Mr. Kasich responded. Deftly backtracking to his cemented script, the 63-year old Lehman Brothers banker and Fox News Channel political talk show host eagerly repeated his claim that he was the chief architect of a balanced federal budget, that has been outed as half-true, as many others, most especially President Clinton, drove the train Kasich was riding on as a passenger.

“Everybody talks about what they want to do, I want to talk about what I’ve done, and then you move from that time in Washington to being governor of Ohio, where we were a basket case, and now we’ve grown 350,000 jobs, $2 billion in surplus, our credit is stronger, we’re helping a lot of people, and $5 billion in tax cuts, including killing the death tax,” Gov. Kasich said, cramming in talking points as bingo numbers.

The former 18-year congressman veered to his claim that he took Medicaid to bring Ohio’s money back home. “I brought the resources home so we don’t have to put all the drug addicted in jail for the rest of their life, or the mentally ill in jail, it saves us money, it’s the morally right thing to do, and then if you don’t have any health care you end up in the emergency room, and we all pay.”

Gov. Kasich’s dislike of Lebron James for leaving Cleveland to play in Miami is no secret. James, Ohio born, won two NBA championship rings by going south, but Kasich still hasn’t extended his famous unconditional love to “King James.” It’s basic Kasich to be snarky when he can, and he delivered to Sean Hannity when he revealed a basic insight about himself via his comment about Lebron James’ return home. “I’ve been trying to take credit for bringing him back…I don’t think he likes that,” Kasich quipped. Taking credit, if he can, for something he didn’t do, like turning Ohio around from The Great Recession, as one prime example, to masterful misdirection.

Part-Time Conservative and RINO

Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly asked Mr. Kasich whether, based on his claim that St. Peter only wants to know what you’ve done to help the poor, whether he would use his “St. Peter rationale” to expand other government programs? The rich governor valued at a possible high of $22 million, who had to disclose his wealth to the Federal Election Commission, and to Fox, which made it a condition for its debate, circled back to his central theme, that he’s on a mission from God to help the less fortunate; and anyway, he considered Medicaid expansion as bringing Ohio resources back home, made possible by the Affordable Care Act, which Kasich thinks is flawed and needs replaced.

Brit Hume, Fox’s senior political celebrity, called Gov. Kasich a “part-time conservative” as a defender of government help for the needy, notwithstanding Mr. Kasich’s admonition about being “dependent’ on government.

Others who chimed into post-debate commentary saw John Kasich, who showed he’s a relic of the Reagan era when he talked easily about how President Reagan expanded these programs,  as a RINO or Republican in name only.

“Kasich is a big government RINO,” one commenter wrote, while another said, “Kasich may as well be a Dem.” Another debate watcher wrote, “From a Republican perspective, Kasich made me squirm. Why? It’s that touchy feely brand of conservatism that means BIG…BIG government. He’s a Bush conservative. We don’t need another one of those.”

“No way do I want to listen to 8 years of his sanctimonious preaching about how I’m going to hell for not wanting him to keep raising taxes. The Ohio legislature voted NOT to broaden Medicaid coverage aka Obamacare and Kasich over rode them and implemented it anyway. We don’t need another man in the WH who thinks he’s King and who loves spending other peoples’ money and skyrocketing the debt,” a viewer said post-debate about Gov. Kasich.

“His approval #s are high because his spending is akin to a Democrat and they’re voting for him,” another said, with another saying, “Kasich is a big government RINO. He expands Medicaid in his state……that was a huge turnoff for me. He’s another career politician, which I will not vote for this time. NO MORE RINOS. We’ve seen they will not win.”

Yet others who do get bylines with big news groups saw Gov. Kasich as a moderate. Frank Bruni of The New York Times reflected on Kasich’s performance in Cleveland Thursday night. “John Kasich charted a humane midcourse for Republicans trying to reconcile personal misgivings over same-sex marriage with how the Supreme Court has ruled. Will it do him any favors with Republican primary voters? Maybe not. But he sounded like a leader, and he sounded like a decent man.”

Still, others who are not familiar with Kasich or his budgets and how they’ve hurt many poor and struggling Ohioans while reaping windfalls for the state’s wealthiest, deemed Kasich’s performance good, but wondered if he can win among the GOP’s very conservative primary voter base. The next challenge for Gov. Kasich is whether the “conservative media” will declare any one candidate the winner of the debate?

John Kasich’s new PR bodyguard, Chris Schrimpf, said the governor’s debate prep didn’t involve rehearsal of one-liners or conducting a mock debate. Schrimpf came to Ohio from Wisconsin, where he worked with Scott Walker, another Heartland-state governor and candidate on stage with Kasich whose national polling is higher than Kasich’s so far, said the debate is going to be Mr. Kasich’s biggest single audience. “He’s probably the least well-known and has moved up in the polls because as he tells his story he is converting voters,” Mr. Schrimpf said, according to the Toledo Blade.

Kasich Weaknesses

For Ohio watchers, it’s clear Gov. Kasich has wised up and pulled in his horns and started sprucing up, wearing presidential attire to help people who are just learning about him see him as presidential. But his political ideology, which drifts right-of-center and doesn’t like unions or the political force they represent, may be out of step with conservative voters on Medicaid expansion and the role of government in general, as noted above.

Gov. Kasich appears to be accepting of a cradle to grave role for government, which insiders say is radically out of step with the conservative firebrand positions that established Kasich’s political career since 1978. During the great recession of the early 1980’s, when Ohio’s budget was decimated by massive increases in the unemployment rate, forcing temporary tax hikes from then-Gov. James A. Rhodes, Kasich was a no vote willing to make draconian cuts to government.

Gov. Kasich has twice proposed tax reforms, that were unanimously opposed by Ohio business, while doing so without much consideration by Ohio’s supermajority Republican legislature. Such isolated decision making may cause doubt about Gov. Kasich’s ability to drive a growth strategy, even though that’s his A-plan recipe for helping the socially disadvantaged. Ohio business quietly but firmly killed his programs twice, so a president who frames the business community as special interests and had that failure at the state level would impact the global economy negatively.

Kasich’s claims of billions in surplus and high credit ratings all stem from his theft as governor of the future with Ohio’s future with a $1 billion plus bond package, that gives him incredible resources now, but encumbers staate liquor profits for decades. Statehouse watchers also note that Kasich dodged the Ohio constitution with methods reminiscent of ObamaCare tactics.

As for the governor’s legend of being an off-putting jerk, the many profiles on him that call this aspect of his multiple-personalities into question will create energized opponents who will never be won over to Kasich’s campaign.

PB Reports

As Plunderbund has reported repeatedly, for all of us who have covered him over his career and now as governor, Gov. Kasich’s actions show he’s not the kindly, father-knows-best personality he’s selling himself as now. Mr. Kasich claimed Thursday night that he has unconditional love for others because the Lord has given him unconditional love. His so-called unconditional love stops at his partisan borders, since in reality he actually imposes many conditions before he’ll even think about loving you. From austerity budget cutting, which he did to local governments and schools and others to amass the billions in funds he subsequently gave away in tax cuts to the wealthy, and then as piggy bank savings in the state’s rainy day fund, Gov. Kasich talks peace and love and problem solving, but his record, unpacked and deflated of his over-sized claims, shows how far he’ll go to meet his goals regardless of who gets run over by his bus.