Politics & Policy

No More Johns: New Hampshire’s ‘Moderate Republican’ Quagmire

Kashich on the campaign trail in Concord, N.H. (Darren McCollester/Getty)
The Kasich campaign feels disturbingly familiar.

Way to go, New Hampshire. Your chosen alternative to the Trump colossus is the political-campaign equivalent of a basic-cable rerun.

If you feel like you’ve seen John Kasich’s 2016 campaign before, you’re probably thinking of Kasich strategist John Weaver’s other efforts . . .  the 2000 and 2008 campaigns of John McCain, where he pitched himself as a different kind of Republican, more focused on doing what’s right than what the rest of his party thinks . . . and Jon Huntsman’s 2012 bid, where he pitched himself as a different kind of Republican, more focused on . . . wait, wasn’t Marco Rubio supposed to be the repetitive one?

Yes, out of all the options, New Hampshire Republicans and independents chose to give a boost to Kasich, the favorite Republican candidate of the New York Times editorial board and Joy Behar.

It’s time for Weaver to stop running guys named “John” as the Republican candidate for people who can’t stand Republicans. These candidates throw themselves head over heels into a pitch for independents, failing to appeal to traditional Republican voters in the process and often alienating them. The John-Jons are touted for their “crossover appeal” without noting the lack of appeal on the original side. They win rave reviews from the media figures least likely to vote for a Republican and least influential among GOP primary voters.

EDITORIAL: A Bad Night for Conservatives in New Hampshire

Back in 2000, the editors of the New Republic fell in love with McCain: “This magazine has never before endorsed a candidate in a Republican primary. We are breaking precedent because, for the first time in recent memory, a serious Republican presidential candidate is seeking to remake his party into something other than the political arm of the privileged few.” McCain’s 2000 bid was so antithetical to established conservative Republican orthodoxy that liberal writers fantasized about him switching parties in the next election and Joe Biden touted a John Kerry-John McCain Democratic ticket.

Last cycle, Huntsman enjoyed a glowing, glossy profile from . . . Vogue magazine, touting “the smooth, cosmopolitan former Utah governor, who not only is on record as a supporter of gay civil unions but also served under Barack Obama as ambassador to China until a few months ago.” The Atlantic’s James Fallows saluted him for standing up for “the virtues of post-Dark Ages rationalism, rather than just standing there politely while Bachmann, Perry, and Palin (to a lesser degree Paul and Santorum) say whatever nutso thing comes into their minds.” The Boston Globe endorsed Huntsman because he “has stood up far more forcefully than Romney against those in his party who reject evolution and the science behind global warming.”

#share#Not long ago, Kasich told CNN’s Jake Tapper, “I have had so many Democrats walk up to me and say, ‘Hey, we like you, we hope you’re going to be the Republican.’” When a confused voter told Kasich she was trying to decide among Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and him, he replied, “Hillary’s too brittle and Bernie’s too out on the extreme. One of them’s too hot and one of them is too cold. But I’m the right temperature.” Finally, a Republican candidate who’s a happy medium between two Democrats.

Finally, a Republican candidate who’s a happy medium between two Democrats.

What’s worse, these efforts usually amount to de facto one-state campaigns, relentlessly focused on New Hampshire and sputtering everywhere else. McCain won seven states in 2000; five of them were in New England. Huntsman got 1 percent of the vote in Iowa, 17 percent in New Hampshire (a distant third behind Romney’s 39 percent) — and dropped out before the South Carolina primary. He finished with one delegate.

Kasich faces a steep climb everywhere beyond New Hampshire. In the RealClearPolitics average, he’s at 2 percent in South Carolina, 2.3 percent in Florida, and 4 percent nationally. A September poll put him in third place in his home state of Ohio, at 13 percent.

RELATED: Armageddon for the GOP Establishment

How many consecutive cycles must Republicans continue to watch reruns of the same campaign — a strategy that wins rave reviews from liberals in the media and yawns from grassroots Republicans? How many more candidates will dust off the old Weaver playbook and boast of their independence, their determination to put “country first,” and how they’re not like those other Republicans?

Finally . . . why are these candidates always named “John”? Are we destined to see John Thune 2020 or John Ratcliffe 2024? Or is it possible that someday Weaver will really shake things up and run a presidential bid by a Republican senator named . . . Joni Ernst?

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