As the first Republican debate draws close, Fox News has named the top 10 candidates who will take place — but who is John Kasich, the unlikely dark horse of the primary debate? Despite making the cut for the main debate, Kasich has flown relatively under the radar thus far, making his sudden rise in polls that much more surprising. Kasich announced his candidacy on July 21 and, in that short time, has risen to the middle of the crowded Republican pack.
Kasich, 62, has a long resume behind him. He's currently a second-term governor of Ohio who managed to easily win re-election, despite being a Republican in a typically blue state. And before becoming governor, Kasich was a member of the House of Representatives. His time in Congress provides some of Kasich's most impressive feats, which are likely to be repeated throughout the coming election. Kasich was chair of the House Budget Committee and helped establish the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, which led to budget surpluses from 1998 through 2001.
And he didn't stop there. Playing with budgets is clearly Kasich's strength; when he took office as governor, Ohio had an $8 billion deficit. Kasich not only overcame this shortcoming, but was able to produce a surplus. During both of his terms, Ohio has seen a balanced and health state budget.
What truly differentiates Kasich from the rest of the Republican candidates, however, are his social programs. In an effort to balance the state budget, Kasich did slow Medicaid spending — but he later expanded the program through the Affordable Care Act, something that's akin to sacrilege for a conservative candidate. He worked on prison reform, pushed through income tax credit programs, worked to decrease human trafficking, and expanded mental health treatment programs. During his term, unemployment rates have dropped 4 percent.
Although some opponents say that Kasich's social welfare efforts look better in paper than they are in real life, it's clear that Kasich is passionate about his work. "Faith is important to me," Kasich told The Washington Post. "If you go through the Old and New testaments, there's one thing that’s very clear. You've got to help people that are downtrodden and poor, and I just think that that's part of our culture. You’ve got to help people that can’t help themselves."
Further distancing Kasich from the pack is the fact that he acknowledges the existence and problem of climate change. And although he is a staunch Catholic who believes in traditional marriage, he's not too worried about the recent Supreme Court marriage equality ruling and said he wouldn't try to undermine it.
But Kasich is not the social welfare savior of the Republican Party. His stances on women and abortion access, in particular, are considered large dark marks on Kasich's resume by many. In 2011, Kasich signed a bill that would ban any abortion procedure after 20 weeks, and in 2013, he further restricted abortion access by tying it into the state funding. Under the new bill, family planning organizations had funding severely limited and further restrictions were placed on abortion procedures, like requiring an ultrasound beforehand.
And it can't be discounted that, for all his successes, it is widely accepted that Kasich is kind of a jerk. He has the brashness of Chris Christie and the irrelevance of Donald Trump, and his temper has proven to be worse than either. When a reporter from The Atlantic interviewed him, he reportedly told the writer that being a political reporter was a "dumb thing to do."
His quick temper is no secret and is sure to rear its head soon — and likely will at the debates. With Trump, Kasich, and Christie on the stage all together, Thursday's debate will undoubtedly have some outbursts and sharp remarks, though Kasich is claiming they won't be coming from him. When asked how he would handle Trump on Thursday, he told CNN, "maybe I'll give him a hug." A Kasich campaign staffer once compared Trump to a drunk NASCAR driver.
While Trump may be positioning himself as the economic expert in Thursday's debate (and the election in general), Kasich has him beat. In fact, Kasich's economic record is better than the majority of the candidates who will be on the stage on Thursday. But it will be interesting to see whether he will play down his social platform for the sake of elevating his economic successes. At the very least, we'll be waiting with bated breath to see if he really does try to hug Trump.