7 February 2016

John Kasich – the man heating up the GOP establishment race


Saturday’s prime time ABC debate was a disaster for Senator Marco Rubio. Emerging out of Iowa as a frontrunner for the nomination, the pressure was always going to turn towards the young senator, and he collapsed under its force. With attacks coming in from all sides, Rubio came across as lightweight, struggling to improvise – as Chris Christie remarked dryly, “it gets very unruly when he gets off his topic”.

Step up John Kasich. One of the candidates with the most to gain from this debate, the Ohio governor was impressive. While other candidates were getting bogged down in ugly cat fights, Kasich presented his positive, alternative vision for conservatism and the Republican Party, and left the stage of the Manchester debate as a clear victor.

The biggest success of Kasich’s night came with the help of his mate from New Jersey. Governor Chris Christie repeatedly landed blows on Rubio, who he exclaimed “does not have the experience” to be president. When the Senator listed one of his achievements as sanctioning Hezbollah, Christie pointed out that “you weren’t even there to vote for it!” The dichotomy between Kasich’s sizeable CV and Rubio’s lack thereof soon became very clear. With the Florida Senator on the ropes, so too did their difference in temperament.

Calm but firm, Kasich boasted of his long list of accomplishments as the Governor of Ohio: turning a deficit of eight billion dollars into a two-billion-dollar surplus; cutting taxes across the board; and, most importantly, creating 400,000 jobs. Rubio, meanwhile, nervously repeated his pre-prepared attacks on Obama, and was embarrassed by Christie who jibed that “that’s what D.C. does” to you.

Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz have dictated the parameters of the debate up until this point, defining conservatism at its most narrow and negative, railing against immigrants and Muslims to great popularity. Kasich rebuked them on their plans to deport undocumented families, pointing out that it’s neither practical nor in their ethos. He presented a positive brand of conservatism, one based on giving opportunity through economic growth instead of solely focussing on peeling back the state and repealing Obama’s actions. Whether Republicans agree with him, though, is yet to be seen.

Kasich certainly picked his timing well. New Hampshire arrives on Tuesday, and he’s looking competitive in the polls, level-pegging with Cruz and just a few points off Rubio. A good result in New Hampshire could provide the momentum that Kasich needs to edge past the other establishment candidates and close the gap with Trump and Cruz.

While Cruz did his reputation no harm, and the establishment darling Jeb Bush finally landed strong blows on the rattled Donald Trump, it was Kasich who truly won the day. All eyes will be on New Hampshire to see whether he can gain a strong foothold in the race.

Jack Graham is a video journalist and political commentator who specialises in American politics