Is John Kasich the Jon Huntsman Jr. of 2016 – a GOP presidential hopeful doomed by party suspicion that he’s really a moderate squish?
That’s a question rolling around the US punditocracy as Ohio Governor Kasich officially kicks off his candidacy for the Oval Office.
Speaking at his alma mater, Ohio State, in Columbus on Tuesday, Kasich emphasized that he’s the most experienced person in the race in terms of government service. As a veteran congressmen and a two-term governor of a major swing state, he’s dealt with important aspects of the federal budget and US national security, as well as state government. He said that 10 years at Lehman Brothers taught him something about business as well.
“I have the experience and the testing, the testing which shapes you and prepares you for the most important job in the world,” said Kasich. “And I believe I know how to work and help restore this great United States.”
Most political reporters agree that Kasich is a serious contender in terms of his qualifications. He’s more widely popular in his home state than is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, for instance. Unlike Jeb Bush, he’s worked in Washington – where as chairman of the House Budget Committee he played a major role in balancing the federal books.
True, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has state legislative experience. But he’s never chaired a Capitol Hill panel, as Kasich has. Senator Rubio has but five years of D.C. service. Kasich had 18.
But résumés don’t win elections. Votes do. And that’s where the Huntsman analogy enters the picture. Kasich reminds some experts of Mr. Huntsman, the former governor of Utah and ambassador to China who entered the 2012 race in a blaze of flags and choreographed glory, then cratered.
Huntsman devoted all his money and effort to the New Hampshire primary, where he finished third. He then dropped out and endorsed Mitt Romney.
Like Huntsman, Kasich has made the Granite State a center of his electoral plans. Like Huntsman, Kasich relishes scolding fellow Republicans for insufficient adherence to reality.
Kasich has even hired Huntman’s former campaign brain trust, including top adviser John Weaver. The result: an announcement that resembled Huntsman’s somewhat dramatic, rambling kickoff.
“#Kasich roll-out reminds me so much of my dad’s four years ago,” tweeted Huntsman’s daughter Abby, an MSNBC host, on Tuesday. “Same team, same timing, similar strategy. Hope it ends better for him.”
But the comparison to Huntsman that may hurt Kasich the most is ideological. Huntsman’s bid was doomed in part due to his deviations from Republican norms – he supported reductions in greenhouse gases to fight climate change, for instance. As Utah governor, he threatened to veto a bill that repealed in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants.
Worst of all, Huntsman worked for the Obama administration as its envoy to Beijing.
Kasich, in many ways, is a rock-ribbed conservative who is well to Huntsman’s right. His pursuit of balanced budgets is legendary. But he supports Common Core educational standards. He’s backed comprehensive immigration reform. Worst of all from the point of view of GOP conservatives, Kasich has expanded Medicaid in Ohio, as allowed under Obamacare.
Kasich also seems to enjoy telling off Republicans who disagree with him, points out National Journal’s Shane Goldmacher in a piece on the Kasich-Huntsman parallels.
“Already, Kasich’s list of GOP apostasies is long,” writes Mr. Goldmacher.
The result of all this: little support for Kasich among conservatives. Some on the GOP right wing add that they’d actively work against a Republican ticket that includes Kasich.
“I look forward to calling John Kasich a former Presidential candidate,” tweeted conservative pundit and author Erick Erickson on Tuesday.
Odds are he’ll get that chance. Right now, Kasich isn’t even in the top 10 in GOP polls, meaning he’d miss the first debate, held Aug. 6 in his home state.
Kasich probably will get a bounce from his announcement Tuesday, though its size remains to be seen. His advisers say he’s focusing more on the New Hampshire primary than early media exposure, but even there he faces obstacles. Other contenders, notably New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, are trying the same thing.
Kasich’s got money: A group that backs him has at least $11 million in the bank. That’s more than Huntsman ever had. But unless he figures a way to break out of the 1-percent-in-the-polls crowd, the Ohio governor could duplicate the Huntsman flameout.
“If you’re interested in Kasich-mania, watch closely. It probably won’t last,” writes left-leaning Ed Kilgore at the Washington Monthly "Political Animal" blog.