Was Kasich just not angry enough for GOP voters?

Posted at 6:23 PM, May 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-05 10:18:10-04

Maybe it was the year of the political outsider.

Maybe voters didn’t want to hear a positive message.

Or maybe John Kasich was just too boring.

Whatever the reason, Ohio’s governor could never ignite enough voter excitement to win beyond his home state’s primary.

Just when his presidential campaign seemed on the verge of petering out, he officially suspended it Wednesday, before a crowd of supporters at the Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus.

“The spirit, the essence of America lies in the hearts and the souls of us,” Kasich said. “You see, some missed this message; it wasn’t sexy. It wasn’t a great sound bite.”

From the beginning, Kasich struggled to emerge from the shadows of candidates who always seemed to get more media attention – Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Ted Cruz. One by one they dropped out, until Kasich had taken the seemingly unbelievable spot as the last man standing next to front-runner Donald Trump.

“He was the quintessential man in a gray flannel suit,” said Ben Bates, a communications professor at Ohio University and expert in political messaging.

“If you picture a stereotypical Republican politician from the late '80s and early '90s, John Kasich would have been that man. Nothing special,” Bates said.

Yet Kasich’s supporters never saw him that way.

“I’ve stuck with him the whole time he’s been a candidate because I felt he’s the right person,” said Gary Cates, a former Ohio state senator from West Chester, who traveled to New Hampshire, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania to campaign for Kasich.

“He’s worked awful hard … for the guy who was the 17th person to get in and the last person to drop out, speaks volumes about him,” Cates said.

Yet Kasich’s late campaign start may have doomed him from the onset.

“He waited about five months too long to make the decision to be a part of it,” said Joe Valenzano, chairman of University of Dayton’s communications department and an expert on campaign rhetoric.

“It hurt his fundraising, and getting his message out,” Valenzano said. “You have a hard time making a splash at that point when you’re just another person throwing a name into the ring.”

Kasich also admitted Wednesday that he was outspent by other Republicans candidates, probably by 50 to 1.

“But we were never, ever daunted in that and we just got up every day and did the best we can,” he said.

Kasich had the perfect political resume -- governor, former Congressman, budget balancer and businessman – typically embraced by voters, said Doug Moormann, vice president at Development Strategies Group in Cincinnati.

“This, however, is not a typical year,” Moormann said. “I think his strength was his weakness … his message did not sell in a national political environment where compromise is increasingly viewed as weakness and sound bites prevail over substance.”

Early on, Kasich took the role in presidential debates as the only adult in the room, while Trump hurled insults at the other candidates. But instead of slinging mud back, Kasich simply shrugged and launched into his son-of-a-mailman story, touting his ability to build political bridges and balance budgets.

His positive candidacy brought him slews of newspaper endorsements, but few delegates. He just couldn’t seem to tap into what voters wanted to hear.

“He never attacked another Republican. He always talked about policies and ways to improve things for Americans,” Bates said. “This seemed to be a year when anger and frustration were the things people wanted to hear.”

In this climate, the “positive warrior,” image just didn’t play with voters, Valenzano said.

“He was running in a climate where people were angry and getting angrier,” Valenzano said.

Alex Triantafilou, chair of the Hamilton County Republican party, agreed that Kasich may have simply picked the wrong year to run for president.

“This was a year for the outsider,” Triantafilou said. “It seemed to be that the train left the station in the fall of 2015.”

Yet Kasich hung on despite impossible odds, through loss after loss in states that he originally thought he could win – Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania -- until his only hope became a contested convention.

The game changed Tuesday night, when Trump won the Indiana primary, and Cruz quickly dropped from the race. Even Kasich’s staunchest allies knew his campaign was truly over.

“Governor Kasich really had no choice at this point,” said former Ohio governor Bob Taft, now a professor at the University of Dayton. “The Trump victory in Indiana removes the possibility of a contested convention and ends the opportunity for Kasich to have any leverage on the selection of the nominee.”

In years past, the Republican party has been kind to its second-place finishers, and some have gone on to run again and win the presidency, such as George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.

But in such an unusual political climate, Bates isn’t sure that will happen to Kasich.

“He’ll come back and govern and may need to take six or seven years out of things before he runs again, like Jeb Bush,” Bates said. “I only hope that it turns out better for him than it did for Jeb.”