Something Is Wrong With Johnny

Kasich“Something is wrong with Johnny.”  No, there’s not something wrong with Republican presidential candidate John Kasich.  It’s actually a punchline in an introductory story Kasich frequently tells, and it captures much about Kasich and why he’s among the more likely possibilities for the Republican presidential nomination.

First, the story.  Kasich frequently recounts how, as a freshman at Ohio State, a meeting he engineered with the university president led to an invitation to meet with President Nixon.  When Kasich called home to tell his decidedly working class parents that he needed a plane ticket in order to go to an Oval Office meeting with President Nixon, his mother yelled to his father “honey pick up the phone, something is wrong with Johnny.”

The story succinctly works in his modest origins (son of a mailman in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania) and his unorthodox thinking and success, as well as demonstrating Kasich’s humor, speaking ability and capacity to connect with his audience.

Kasich has an unusual mix of qualifications and characteristics.  He’s a rarity among the 17 “major” Republican candidates, with substantial experience in both state and federal office.  (Bobby Jindal and Marco Rubio have also held state and federal office, although neither has as substantial a resume as Kasich.)  Now in his second term as governor of Ohio, Kasich previously served in the House of Representatives for 18 years.  In Congress he was on the Armed Services Committee for his entire tenure and served six years as Chairman of the Budget Committee at a time when the federal budget ran a surplus.  Although he unequivocally subscribes to a smaller government is better philosophy, Kasich does say that government has an important role and stresses his Washington history of bipartisan cooperation.

He comes across as somewhat quirky and awkward at times, and has a past reputation for being difficult to work with, but he also comes across as genuine.  Kasich has recently risen in the crowded primary field and he is likely to continue to move toward the front.

Here’s a New Hampshire town hall clip featuring his “something is wrong with Johnny” line: