Strategic Perception, Inc.

John Kasich: The Résumé Republican

Unlike many rivals, the Ohio governor is proudly highlighting his experience in Washington

Shane Goldmacher
July 21, 2015

Ohio Gov. John Kasich waves to the crowd at an event announcing his 2016 presidential candidacy.
Ty Wright/Getty Images

COLUMBUS, Ohio — John Kasich put his lengthy political résumé front-and-center in his presidential campaign kickoff, citing his decades of experience in Washington and Ohio government as the chief rationale for his candidacy.

The recitations of congressional committee work and budget crunching in Washington marked a sharp contrast with the rest of 16-person Republican field, almost all of whom are distancing themselves from, and downplaying their ties to, the nation's capital.

Kasich's 45-minute speech attempted to highlight the three items on his résumé that his political advisers believe are the keys to him breaking through: 1) his 18 years on the House Armed Services Committee, giving him foreign policy experience; 2) his chairmanship of the Budget Committee, when the federal budget was balanced in the late 1990s; and 3) his two terms as governor of Ohio, during which the state's economy has rebounded.

"I know what needs to be done," Kasich said in his speech. "I have been there at all levels."

But whether qualifications and résumé-studying are what the 2016 electorate is focused on is an open question. Earlier on Tuesday, Sen. Rand Paul, whose campaign slogan is "Destroy the Washington Machine," took an actual chain saw to the tax code. And within minutes of Kasich's speech, celebrity politician Donald Trump made yet another shallow-yet-successful play for media attention in South Carolina, giving away Sen. Lindsey Graham's personal cell-phone number to his audience, both in person and on TV.

Back in Columbus, the words "experience matters" flashed on a slideshow playing on monitors throughout the Ohio State University campus center where Kasich kicked off his campaign before a cheering crowd.

"Policy," Kasich declared, "is more important than politics or ideology or any of the other nonsense we see."

Fred Davis, the chief ad-maker for Kasich's super PAC, said that it is those three particular résumé items that make Kasich "extraordinarily unique.

"Some of [Kasich's rivals] have as much or more experience in maybe one of these categories, but I don't know anyone who has the big three," Davis said ahead of the speech.

Davis has boiled them down into a 10-second ad for SnapChat. Longer TV ads are already broadcasting those accomplishments across New Hampshire, the state Kasich is banking on most to back him.

Former Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire, perhaps Kasich's most important surrogate, highlighted Kasich's lengthy résumé onstage Tuesday: "That's what America needs most today—a president who doesn't need any on-the-job training."

"It's just not just about flowery rhetoric. It's just not ideas," said Rep. Pat Tiberi of Ohio, who was on hand and has endorsed Kasich, after the speech. "It's ideas that have actually been put into place .... It's a results-oriented message."

In a speech that was at times meandering and repetitive (as former Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer scolded on Twitter, "John Kasich's announcement is a great advertisement for speechwriters and Teleprompters"), Kasich walked through much of his life, from campaigning for Reagan in 1976 to his upstart congressional bid in 1982 to his committee service in the House. To the surprise of many, he even cited, by name, the since-bankrupt Wall Street firm he worked for ahead of the 2008 financial crisis.

"I worked at Lehman Brothers," Kasich declared.

Earlier this month, at a press conference at the Republican National Committee, Kasich telegraphed that his campaign would look back at his record as much as forward toward his vision.

"Now I think that's a pretty good résumé and a pretty good record," he said then, of his nearly two decades in Congress and his time as governor of Ohio. "And I think Americans today are not so much interested in what you're going to do, but they're interested in what you have done. Because we tried 'what you're going to do' for the last eight years and we didn't get good results."

Kasich starts out at the bottom of Republican primary polls and faces a critical test only weeks into his candidacy: getting onto the first Republican debate stage, in his home state of Ohio, in a little over two weeks. He currently falls below the top 10 of candidates in national polls who would qualify, according to Fox News's criteria.

So does Davis, who is known as one of the Republican Party's most creative admen, have another "demon sheep" or "crying babies" ad in the can?

"I'm not sure that going out of the way with John Kasich to do something hyper-attention-attracting is necessary," Davis said. "Those who want to see some wild Fred Davis thing might be disappointed."

Instead, expect an unrelenting focus on résumé items one, two, and three. "I think he can do this on his own," Davis said of Kasich.

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