John Kasich’s apparent second-place finish in Tuesday’s Republican presidential primary in New Hampshire breathes new life into his campaign and transforms the Ohio governor from an afterthought into a real factor in the GOP nominating process — or, so you’re about to hear from the media.
The press has been waiting for steady, decent Kasich to show a glimmer of relevance in a race dominated by strident rhetoric. Despite being a blip in national polls, Kasich in recent weeks piled up endorsements from the New York Times, Boston Globe and seven leading newspapers in New Hampshire.
Some of his GOP competitors have mocked him for it. Chris Christie’s campaign said the Times endorsement “further proves that John Kasich is a liberal’s idea of what a good Republican should look like.” But Kasich has embraced the media love, even telling a crowd in Salem, N.H., last week that the flood of endorsements brought him to tears.
This is the part where I remind you that a paper’s newsroom operates independently of its editorial board. That’s true, and it would be hard to argue that Kasich has been showered with positive coverage — or showered with coverage at all. He has consistently lagged behind rivals like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson, and has been treated accordingly by the press.
But editorial boards are comprised of journalists, too, and their judgments can offer some insight into how other media members view the field. So here’s what the Times thinks of Kasich:
Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, though a distinct underdog, is the only plausible choice for Republicans tired of the extremism and inexperience on display in this race. And Mr. Kasich is no moderate. As governor, he’s gone after public-sector unions, fought to limit abortion rights and opposed same-sex marriage.
Still, as a veteran of partisan fights and bipartisan deals during nearly two decades in the House, he has been capable of compromise and believes in the ability of government to improve lives. He favors a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and he speaks of government’s duty to protect the poor, the mentally ill and others “in the shadows.” While Republicans in Congress tried more than 60 times to kill Obamacare, Mr. Kasich did an end-run around Ohio’s Republican Legislature to secure a $13 billion Medicaid expansion to cover more people in his state.
In other words, Kasich — more so than Rubio, widely dubbed the “establishment” favorite after a strong third-place showing in Iowa last week — represents the best chance to restore sanity. That seemed like wishful thinking when the Times printed its endorsement on Jan. 31, but Rubio’s robotic gaffe in last week’s debate, coupled with Kasich’s performance in New Hampshire on Tuesday, makes it slightly more plausible that the governor could emerge as the top alternative to reality star Trump and tea party darling Cruz.
Kasich remains a long shot to win the Republican nomination. But now that his moment has arrived, expect at least a smidge of hyperbole about its significance in the media.