Waiting in the shadow campaign.

Photographer: Melina Mara/ The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Case for Kasich

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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John Kasich has suddenly stepped up the visible portion of his presidential campaign, planning a trip to South Carolina and letting it be known he’s “consulting” with some big-name Republicans about the race.

Ed Kilgore over at Washington Monthly is unimpressed:

I’m sorry, I just don’t get why so many smart people share this view of Kasich as a world-beater. Yes, his resume is strong, and yes, he’s theoretically “electable.” But if there was ever the wrong time for a Balanced Budget crusade, it’s probably right now, and I just can’t see him rousing a crowd into the kind of hate-frenzy needed to win in the early states.

In addition to noting Kasich's dearth of fire-breathing skills, Kilgore refers to the Ohio governor's two visible problems on policies that matter to Republicans: his support for the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare and for the federal Common Core education standards.

I don’t think Kasich is a leading candidate; I still have Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio (in some order) as my top tier of strong contenders. But each of the three has significant vulnerabilities, and they are all untested at this level.

After that, I can’t see anyone standing out as significantly stronger than Kasich, at least so far. Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana hasn't gained traction yet. Rick Perry (who, remember, is still under indictment) may never recover from his 2012 run.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence looks great on paper, but has lately come to share some of Kasich’s weaknesses, and, notwithstanding today’s George Will column,  appears to be less committed to a presidential race than his Ohio neighbor.

Mike Huckabee still hasn’t shown he can raise money and may have the active opposition of everyone besides Christian conservatives. Rick Santorum is probably nothing more than a cut-rate Huck.

Chris Christie? As David Letterman would say, I wouldn’t give his troubles to a monkey on a rock.

That’s it for the viable candidates.

It’s hard for any politician to be in office for long without winding up with at least one or two strikes against his or her True Conservative credentials. Which is why Mitt Romney was able to win the Republican nomination the last time and why John McCain could win it in 2008, despite all the strikes against them.

I'm not saying the candidates are weak. None of them is anywhere close to Romney and McCain in having a history of violations of conservative orthodoxy. Each of them (even Santorum -- he won a lot of states last time!) has some real strengths.

But so does Kasich. He’s a popular governor of an important swing state (and was just re-elected in a landslide), and he has national legislative experience. Make fun of a balanced-budget amendment -- his pet issue -- all you want (please), but plenty of Republicans think it’s important, and absolutely no one who will vote in a Republican primary is going to oppose it.

While Bush, Walker and Rubio seem to be moving ahead a bit, we haven't yet seen the rush of endorsements signaling that the party has decided, or even that it’s coming close. So I don’t see any reason to write him off.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net