GOV. JOHN Kasich entered the presidential race on Tuesday as the most accomplished GOP candidate no one has heard of. Mr. Kasich boasts a strong record running one of the most sought-after swing states in the country, Ohio, and he has the solid approval ratings to prove it. Though he is running from the Midwest, he also served 18 years in Congress before returning to Ohio, so he knows the ropes in Washington. The question is whether his many qualities will stand out in a GOP field packed with people who will be louder and angrier. That’s going to be tough, but, we hope, not impossible.
Mr. Kasich’s strength is his unique blend of conservative values, pragmatic accomplishments and religious conviction, elements of which could appeal to the party’s business and Christian wings without alienating general election voters. A budget hawk, he boasts about righting Ohio’s books and the state’s economic recovery. Openly pious, he claims he is “a flawed man” whose motivation is “to honor God’s blessings in my life.” A member of the House Armed Services Committee during his years in Congress, he favors strengthening the military. He can credibly state that he worked with Ronald Reagan.
But GOP voters looking for harder ideological edges won’t find them in Mr. Kasich. Though he stresses his belief in personal responsibility, he frequently talks about the importance of empathy and public policy that helps those on the margins. Whereas some GOP governors boast about clamping down on the working poor, he insists that “we’re not going to bang you over the head because you’re trying to get ahead.” Whereas many Republicans do little to confront the reality of persistent racial inequality, Mr. Kasich seems eager to talk about it. African Americans believe that the system works against them, he said Tuesday. “I don’t blame them.”
“Policy is far more important than politics or ideology or any of the other nonsense that we see,” Mr. Kasich went on to declare. As governor, Mr. Kasich accepted federal funds to expand his state’s Medicaid program, a policy that helps not the middle class, to which politicians must pander, but the truly disadvantaged. Many GOP governors, including some in the presidential race, did the opposite, sacrificing the well-being of their constituents to anti-Obamacare extremism. Early in his administration, Mr. Kasich joined Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) in battling public-sector unions. But after the voters repudiated his effort, Mr. Kasich made a course correction, took a less confrontational path and recovered.
Mr. Kasich’s route to the GOP nomination would run through New Hampshire, where his casual and authentic tone could play well in town-hall meetings. Yet that tone could also be a curse: It may be that Mr. Kasich’s no-nonsense style doesn’t fit with the GOP’s current ethos. He may not even make it on the debate stage. If one of the most serious candidates in the race fails to attract real attention while Donald Trump surges, it would say more about the Republican Party than Mr. Kasich.