WASHINGTON – As debate after debate degenerated into schoolyard shouting and insults among men vying to be U.S. president, John Kasich fashioned himself the only grown-up on the Republican stage.
The Ohio governor, winner of Tuesday’s primary in his key home state, insists he is about substance and issues — not headline-grabbing trash talk of the kind made popular in this election cycle by front-runner Donald Trump.
“We know that we need to unite this country and be Americans and not spend our time dividing people in this country,” Kasich told CNN after his victory was called.
The win was a sweet, and essential one, for Kasich. He had yet to win a primary this season and absolutely needed a strong showing on his home turf to stay in the race after polling last or near last for much of the race.
Kasich, a sitting two-term governor and former congressman, embodies the political establishment — hardly an advantage in an election year dominated by populist calls for an outsider to take the reins in Washington.
The 63-year-old tries to project an image as an experienced, more moderate optimist compared to his firebrand rivals.
Kasich says that a mature, steady hand like his stands out and wins people over when Trump and his other rivals are at each other’s throats.
“Throughout this campaign, I’ve talked about issues, I have never tried to go and get into these scrums that we’re seeing here on the stage,” Kasich said early this month at the start of a debate in Detroit, Michigan.
“And people say everywhere I go, ‘You seem to be the adult on the stage,’ ” Kasich added.
Kasich is hardly a household name in American politics.
But he surged into the national view early in the race by finishing second in the New Hampshire primary.
Affable and seemingly relaxed on the campaign trail, he has largely refrained from attacking his opponents, projecting a relentlessly positive image that set him apart from his combative rivals — the billionaire front-runner Trump chief among them.
“We never went negative because we have more good to sell than to spend our time being critical of somebody else,” Kasich said on the night of his strong showing in New Hampshire.
Kasich has earned praise from The New York Times, which called him “the only plausible choice for Republicans tired of the extremism and inexperience on display in this race.”
Still, in absolute terms, Kasich is “no moderate,” the Times noted, citing his record of confronting trade unions, limiting abortion rights, opposing same-sex marriage — a reflection of just how far right the Republican Party has moved.
Kasich is also a vocal defender of the right to bear arms, another fault line in America’s increasingly polarized politics.
Elected Ohio governor in 2010 and re-elected in 2014, Kasich previously served as a U.S. congressman from 1983 to 2001, when he earned kudos for helping balance federal budgets, and as a state senator from 1979 to 1983.
He considered a presidential bid in 2000 before giving up politics, going to work as an investment banker and commentator for Fox News.
Kasich has often touted his bipartisan credentials while in office. In 1994, he voted with Democrats to support an assault weapons ban under President Bill Clinton, which earned him the National Rifle Association’s wrath.
He also proposed his own version of universal health care as a House Budget Committee member during the 1990s.
Since he launched his campaign, Kasich has been mentioned as a potential vice presidential pick, someone who could help carry the crucial swing state of Ohio while lending gravitas and experience to the ticket.