Monday, February 15, 2016

Ohio Gov. John Kasich is Really Running for Vice President

By Professor Justin Hughes
Originally posted on The Los Angeles Daily News

Ohio Governor John Kasich just did very well in the New Hampshire primary — second place behind Donald Trump and first among the pack that might be called “mainstream” Republican candidates. That success will hide from view something that John Kasich knows all too well: that by running in these primaries Kasich has made himself the GOP’s most obvious and most perfect choice for a vice presidential nominee. If Trump heads the ticket, Kasich brings serious foreign affairs, Washington and executive government experience, not to mention a sensible, moderate voice. And he helps galvanize Ohio’s critical swing vote — ask any pundit or politically mindful Ohioan: you have to go back to 1960 to find someone elected president who did not carry the Great State of Ohio.

Kasich would bring that same formula to a Cruz campaign, a Rubio campaign, a Bush campaign or a Carson campaign.

So if Kasich is such an obvious choice, why not just wait in the governor’s mansion in Columbus sitting by the phone? Kasich’s problem is that Ohio’s junior senator, Republican Rob Portman, would offer pretty much the same attractive package to anyone who holds the GOP nomination this summer. And that adds a new layer of calculus.

When it comes time for a major party to pick the vice presidential running mate, the campaign team of a presidential nominee has a simple choice before it gets to considerations of constituencies and electoral votes: choose someone who has already run for the presidency or someone who has not.

Choosing a “fresh” face has its virtues, but it is simply impossible for a presidential campaign — in the crush of midsummer — to fully vet each person on even a “short list.” We all know the results. Long before John McCain’s disastrous choice of the train wreck named Sarah Palin, there was Vice President Spiro Agnew — eventually convicted of bribery from his days as a Maryland politician — and Walter Mondale’s 1984 choice of Geraldine Ferraro with all the subsequent, damaging questions about her husband’s business activities. We might even wonder if George W. Bush would have picked Dick Cheney if a presidential campaign had brought Cheney’s Darth Vader tendencies into the daylight.

In contrast, choosing someone who has already run a credible campaign for the presidency means the press will already have done much of the vetting. Ronald Reagan (1980), Bob Dole (1996), John Kerry (2004) and Barack Obama (2008) all safely chose running mates from among those who had challenged them in the primaries. In 1992, Bill Clinton safely chose Al Gore — who had run for president in 1988 (and won six Democratic primaries). Even if the press has not done the full vetting that they should have, the familiar face of someone who has been seriously on the campaign trail makes reporters less prone to new, deep-dive investigations.

So John Kasich has been wisely running for the GOP’s vice presidential nomination these last few months. Watching the sudden uptick in analysis and investigation into Ben Carson when Carson rose in the polls a few months ago, you can understand how important it was for Kasich to do well in New Hampshire. He needs to do well enough in the primaries that the eventual GOP nominee will see Kasich as a good campaigner, not just the ticket to Ohio’s 18 electoral votes. But just as importantly, Kasich needs to do well enough that the press will treat him as someone they and the American people already “know.”

New Hampshire just helped Gov. Kasich to become that completely familiar face. If you’re a person who cares that at least someone on the GOP ticket knows how to govern — and that should be pretty much all of us — that’s the best result coming out of New Hampshire this week.

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