In a long and not exactly flattering article that appeared in The New York Times Magazine recently, Robert Draper, a national reporter who regularly contributes to the publication, followed Ohio Governor John Kasich in New Hampshire in September. What he witnessed was a replay of Gov. Kasich’s reelection campaign in Ohio, only in a different state.
The Big Question
Mr. Draper was in hot pursuit of Gov. Kasich for a few days in the small state where Kasich hopes to finish in the top three so he can gain traction in the next two states to vote, South Carolina and Nevada, where his chances right now are slim to nothing based on polling data from RealClearPolitics. com.
It’s too bad Mr. Draper didn’t ask Ohio’s CEO one big question he successfully evaded answering in 2014, a question that would have demanded some candid and blunt answers from a candidate whose distemper is well known.
Had Mr. Draper been able to mind the gap between what Gov. Kasich says he’s done, and what he’s actually done in his five years as state leader, he could have drawn him into explaining what he would have done differently from Ted Strickland, had he been the governor when the Great Recession hit, taking down Ohio and nearly every other state in the process?
Would the tax-cutter have lowered income taxes, a forever fixation of his, as his prime solution to the recovery, and by doing so would he have forced Ohio into a real economic depression? Would he have touched the state’s rainy day fund, as Strickland did to keep Ohio afloat, or would he have left it sitting there to safeguard the state’s credit rating?
Mr. Draper’s 2,908-word campaign profile on Gov. Kasich’s meanderings in New Hampshire follows the normal contours of reporters covering the mercurial leader, who has followed Republican dogma for decades even though he wanders from it from time to time, especially when he tries to show off his so-called “big heart” for the less fortunate.
The come-away observation Mr. Draper does make in “The Primary That Disqualified the Qualified,” is that selling yourself as the commercial pilot who knows how to land the plane isn’t what GOP voters, especially base voters, want in their next president. What they do want is a bomber pilot who won’t stop until they see a mushroom cloud forming in the distance. Solid credentials from elections past, based on real experience in government, isn’t energizing Republican voters who are drifting toward Donald Trump and Ted Cruz as their co-pilots.
Commercial airline pilots like John Kasich, who think running government is as easy as wheels up, flaps, down are selling the wrong product to customers who want something new and improved. In fact, the government outsider is now king, as one poll after another shows, and commercially trained pilots like John Kasich, who crafted his “land the plane” metaphor to dazzle low-information voters, and who says he’s done it before and can do it again, won’t be in the cockpit come General Election time. Bomber pilots are needed and recruitment isn’t coming from so-called “establishment lane” politico pilots like John Kasich.
A small indication of this phenomena comes from Hart Research Associates who found that 11 percent of voters are enthusiastic about a presidential candidate with no previous elected experience in government. HRA also found 13 percent of independents say that being “easygoing and likable” describes Donald Trump well. And further muddling establishment-lane politicians expectations, 16 percent of 18-49 year-old women say Trump is helping the GOP’s image. Adding salt to the wound of changing attitudes among GOP primary voters are the 24 percent of them who think Donald Trump has the right temperament to be president.
So far, that bomber pilot in our national election saga is New York real estate mogul Donald Trump. His motivated base wants bombing runs, not steady descents to a safe landing that requires compromising with Democrats, as Mr. Kasich is fond of saying he knows how to do. Commercially train pilots like John Kasich, who thought reliance on their long tenure in government held lots of trump cards to be played this election cycle, are maybe coming to grips with the realization that they and their records are exactly the opposite of what GOP base voters want. If service is their trump card, Mr. Trump has shown that’s not necessarily a winning hand anymore. The aviation metaphor, devised by Mr. Kasich and taken airborne at the GOP debate in California, with President Ronald Reagan’s Air Force One jet standing silently as a backdrop, is apt for a governor whose only flying experience is flying off the handle at someone he dislikes or gets in his way.
Robert Draper recalls an encounter Gov. Kasich had with a woman who attended one of his small-venue New Hampshire events. “How did Kasich, the Ohio governor, intend to make himself heard amid the roaring, goading din of the scene-stealing billionaire? Slouching and noticeably dyspeptic, Kasich waited for her to finish. His reply was one he’d given to reporters a half-dozen times already that day. ‘‘Look, I don’t spend any time thinking about him,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t take this seriously.’’ His focus was on making his case to the voters of New Hampshire, the state where Kasich was investing inordinate energy in hopes of staging an upset victory over Trump, who was then polling ahead of everyone else by double digits.”
“‘I’m free!’ Kasich exclaimed at one point, perhaps not yet fully appreciating the price of insignificance, of being a governor in an agitator’s world,” Mr. Draper wrote. “He did say of Trump: ‘‘I don’t like people who call other people names. I don’t like the divisiveness. I don’t like the negativity.’’ After that, he declared himself done with the topic and scanned the audience for another question.”
Camp Kasich is no shrinking violet when it comes to dividing and snarking enemy encampments, then decrying the very same tactics when other candidates employ them. Having lunch on the New Hampshire campaign trail with Gov. Kasich, Mr. Draper “expressed skepticism” that the governor could so easily dismiss the man who had dominated the Republican field for the past five months.
“‘I don’t care what the polls say,’’ he [Kasich] snapped. ‘‘Look. There’s going to be a vote coming up. And then we don’t have to have this discussion anymore.’” Draper got a full dose of the self-basting, perpetually petulant governor who says he has solutions to the nation’s worries. For reporters who know how Mr. Kasich likes to treat media, which he’d rather be done with except he needs them to stenographer his legendary quips that show his dysfunctional personality in full bloom, his statements show just how cemented he is to his beliefs, which no amount of discussion has a reasonable chance of changing it.
Based on nearly 40 years as a performance politician that has made him a wealthy political celebrity, at least in Ohio, his showmanship skills are his first line of offense. It’s impossible to imagine John Kasich arriving at a decision that counters his long-held beliefs on fiscal or social policy that run counter to what the majority of Americans want today.
“Today a Trump victory seems less far-fetched. It is Kasich, currently polling sixth in New Hampshire (and 21 points behind Trump), who faces long odds of winning there on Feb. 9.,” Mr. Draper writes. “Kasich is the purest example of this inversion: What had in previous elections been a badge of honor — not just his executive experience as a governor but his experience in government period — now marks him as a confederate of a corrupt political system that, in the Trumpian view of things, has crippled America.”
As the smart reporter Mr. Draper has shown himself to be, he deduces from the new dynamics of today’s GOP race for the White House that “good governance…has become not just an oxymoron but a politically poisonous phrase from a dead language.” Saying it, he says, “is to mark your political extinction — or so the thinking goes in the winning camps these days. Kasich is, in a way, the last holdout, espousing old-fashioned sentiments about America’s yearning to ‘‘hang together’’ and his desire to lead with ‘‘a big heart’’ rather than with a fusillade of invective. His approach may ultimately be proved right, but only if virtually every poll is wrong.”
The author goes on to pick apart the very reasons Camp Kasich touts as why he’ll be “the story” coming out of New Hampshire, where after spending millions already with a promise to spend more, he’s drifted down to sixth place.
Camp Kasich is waging a campaign, he says, based on a likely false premise. “Perhaps there was no establishment lane. The Kasich campaign’s obsession with beating Bush presupposed that Republican voters had the slightest interest in candidates who preached from the gospel of governance. Every poll reflected that the opposite was true. People were responding to the outsiders — and correspondingly turning away from those candidates, like Kasich and Bush, who ran on the idea that they ‘‘can fix it,’’ in the words of Bush’s widely mocked campaign slogan. Senators Rubio and Cruz recognized this; their stump speeches reflected more of what they had fought against — Obamacare, gun control, climate-change accords — than what they had actually accomplished with their Senate colleagues. In this manner, they experienced gains in the polls as had the genuine outsiders in the race: Trump, Carson and Fiorina.”
As Mr. Draper notes, John Kasich is still clinging to his theory that his resume best qualifies him for the big job. “He had no interest in pretending to be anything other than the governor that he was, that in less than two months, Republican voters would turn to someone who could land the plane. But there was no recent evidence to suggest that this was true — or that voters would select the man currently polling sixth in New Hampshire as their steady-handed pilot, rather than more cunning aviators like Cruz and Rubio (now battling for second place behind Trump) or Christie (fourth).”
NH Reporters Still Clueless
As if to prove the very point of Mr. Draper’s article, some New Hampshire political reporters continue to stenograph the governor’s sweet song of bringing people together as only he and his resume can.
The New Hampshire Union Leader, which has already endorsed New Jersey Gov. Chris Chrsitie, repeated the wishful thinking from Camp Kasich.
“‘If I am the story coming out of New Hampshire,’ said John Kasich, his words trailing off.The Republican presidential hopeful joked that he probably shouldn’t say it with the media and cameras around.If he is the story after the nation’s first primary, people will not just know how to pronounce his name, Kasich said. He added, ‘And I probably, probably, will be President of the United States.’ Kasich argued his electability as he wrapped up his remarks Monday to a candidate forum hosted by the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce and the law firm of Devine Millimet. With the New Hampshire primary just around the corner, the Ohio governor finds himself in a crop of well-known Republican candidates seeking a strong performance here to propel the campaigning longer into the nominating calendar.Kasich continues to focus on economic themes, both for his experience as a governor and as a former 18-year congressman who was an architect of the last balanced federal budget. Kasich told his audience Monday that he would rebuild the military and renew global relationships to defeat Islamic State terrorismKasich continues his campaign swing today with town hall meetings in Derry and Keene,'” Dan Tuohy dutifully wrote.
Meanwhile, according to a new national poll out by Reuters today, Gov. Kasich finds himself third from the bottom [at 1.4%], just barely ahead of Rick Santorum. You Know Who leads with 40.6 percent.
So what’s the bottom line for Mr. Kasich’s chances, according to Robert Draper? “It seemed likelier that John Kasich would soon return home to what he referred to as ‘’the second-best job in America.’’ In Ohio, the sitting governor remained extremely popular — though, according to the most recent poll, even there, he was still nowhere near as popular among Republican voters as You Know Who.”