John Kasich Is Stealing Jeb Bush’s Thunder

One of the debate’s biggest winners was the Ohio governor, who made the most of his home-state advantage.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit.
Darren McCollester/Getty Images
Josh Kraushaar
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Josh Kraushaar
Aug. 6, 2015, 9:01 p.m.

At the in­aug­ur­al GOP pres­id­en­tial de­bate, a swing-state gov­ernor with a re­cord of re­forms and a mes­sage of eco­nom­ic mo­bil­ity made his mark. En­ter­ing the de­bate stage to loud ap­plause, the ex­per­i­enced GOP ex­ec­ut­ive touted his brand of com­pas­sion­ate con­ser­vat­ism. He dis­armed skep­tics of his free-wheel­ing speak­ing style, com­ing pre­pared with crisp talk­ing points ad­voc­at­ing his gov­ern­ing re­cord.

That gov­ernor wasn’t former Flor­ida Gov. Jeb Bush. It was cur­rent Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

“Kasich is killing it. Hope­ful. Up­lift­ing. Op­tim­ist­ic. And he has an ap­peal to those who think the GOP doesn’t care,” tweeted Ari Fleis­cher, former spokes­man for George W. Bush.

(RE­LATED: Win­ners: Trump, Kasich, Ru­bio. Losers: Bush, Car­son, Cruz.)

If there’s one im­me­di­ate con­sequence of the hyped first Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial de­bate, it’s that mil­lions of Amer­ic­an view­ers will be learn­ing about many GOP can­did­ates after know­ing little about them be­fore­hand. And one of those less­er-known but highly-ac­com­plished can­did­ates is Kasich, the two-term gov­ernor of the polit­ic­ally-pivotal battle­ground state.

Kasich isn’t go­ing to win over many of the party’s con­ser­vat­ive grass­roots. But he’s not Jon Hunts­man, either. Through the course of the de­bate, he made a com­pel­ling case that he’s as vi­able a con­tender for the es­tab­lish­ment mantle as Bush, who seemed un­usu­ally tent­at­ive and rusty after not be­ing on a de­bate stage for over a dec­ade.

Throughout the de­bate, Kasich es­sen­tially cribbed Bush’s “right to rise” mes­sage with his own flour­ishes. “Lift every­body, unite every­body, and build a stronger United States of Amer­ica again. It will be, it can be done,” Kasich said. He re­it­er­ated his op­pos­i­tion to gay mar­riage, while out­lining his per­son­al tol­er­ance for those with dif­fer­ences. “We need to give every­body a chance, treat every­body with re­spect, and let them share in this great Amer­ic­an dream that we have.” After out­lining the state’s re­cord of eco­nom­ic growth, he con­cluded his clos­ing state­ment by say­ing: “People have hope again in Ohio!”

(RE­LATED: The Case for Kasich)

Kasich soun­ded like a happy war­ri­or on stage, a far cry from his repu­ta­tion for ir­rit­ab­il­ity. And he stayed mostly on mes­sage dur­ing his speak­ing time, an im­press­ive feat for a politi­cian who’s known to go off on dis­tract­ing tan­gents.

Bush made no ma­jor blun­ders, but he looked out of his ele­ment at times. It was clear that his free-wheel­ing style and aver­sion to the cho­reo­graphy of polit­ics was pre­vent­ing him from mak­ing a big­ger mark. He stumbled (again) over a ques­tion about his broth­er’s de­cision to in­vade Ir­aq, clum­sily pivot­ing to Ir­an at the end. He wasn’t as force­ful on his key is­sue — im­mig­ra­tion re­form — as he could have been, es­pe­cially with Don­ald Trump stand­ing next to him on stage. “He seemed a little pale, a little flat,” Fox News mod­er­at­or Chris Wal­lace said in the net­work’s post-de­bate cov­er­age.

Bush didn’t look like the con­fid­ent front-run­ner on stage Thursday night — and he’s been stag­nant in re­cent polling des­pite his name iden­ti­fic­a­tion. If there’s room for an es­tab­lish­ment al­tern­at­ive, Kasich is well-po­si­tioned to cap­it­al­ize. The Ohio gov­ernor’s de­lib­er­ate line of be­ing the “son of a mail­man” of­fers a stark con­trast to Bush’s elite up­bring­ing. And if style mat­ters as much as sub­stance to Re­pub­lic­ans — something that Don­ald Trump’s surge has demon­strated — Kasich’s abil­ity to con­nect with voters emo­tion­ally trumps Bush’s abil­ity to do the same.

(RE­LATED: I Stayed Off Twit­ter and Watched the De­bate Like a Nor­mal Per­son)

New Hamp­shire is shap­ing up to be ground zero for that wide-open battle, one where Kasich has been fo­cus­ing his ef­forts and rising in the polls. The Ohio gov­ernor’s su­per PAC has already spent about $3 mil­lion to raise his pro­file in the state — and his spend­ing has got­ten some res­ults. The Real­Clear­Polit­ics av­er­age of polling in the state finds Kasich sur­ging to fourth place this month, win­ning over 8 per­cent of the vote.

The next month will provide a test of wheth­er Kasich can trans­late that po­ten­tial in­to na­tion­al sup­port. With mil­lions of view­ers get­ting their first ex­pos­ure to him, he took every ad­vant­age of the op­por­tun­ity. Jeb Bush looked like an aw­fully tenu­ous front-run­ner Thursday night.

What We're Following See More »
Trump Campaign Encouraged Papadopoulos To Contact Russian Media
1 days ago

"When a Russian news agency reached out to George Papadopoulos to request an interview shortly before the 2016 election," deputy communications director Bryan Lanza encouraged him to respond. "You should do it," Lanza wrote in a September 2016 email, "emphasizing the benefits of a U.S. 'partnership with Russia.'" The Trump campaign has "sought to paint the 30-year old energy consultant as a low level volunteer" in the campaign, but recently disclosed emails show that Papadopoulos had contact with "senior campaign figures" in the Trump campaign, "such as chief executive Stephen K. Bannon and adviser Michael Flynn," who encouraged him to "broker ties between Trump and top foreign officials."

Trump Signs Omnibus, Expresses Reservations
1 days ago
Omnibus Press Conference at 1 PM
1 days ago
John Bolton Named National Security Advisor
1 days ago

"President Trump named John R. Bolton, a hard-line former American ambassador to the United Nations, as his third national security adviser on Thursday, continuing a shake-up that creates one of the most hawkish national security teams of any White House in recent history. Mr. Bolton will replace Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the battle-tested Army officer who was tapped last year to stabilize a turbulent foreign policy operation but who never developed a comfortable relationship with the president." Bolton was an outspoken advocate of military action during the George W. Bush administration, and has "called for action against Iran and North Korea."

Trump Threatens Omnibus Veto
1 days ago

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.