The man seems a prodigy. A Republican governor who demolished his Democratic opponent for re-election by 31 percentage points in arguably the second most important swing state in the nation.

On paper Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio should be an immediate top-tier contender for the White House. “I have to humbly tell you, I believe I do have the skills,” Kasich said during his announcement speech Tuesday in Columbus, Ohio.

Yet, most pundits say it’s unlikely the governor, former investment banker, former powerful committee chairman, and former local legislator will catch fire in the historically large GOP field.

Why Not the Top Job?

Kasich is popular in Ohio but has offended conservatives on the national stage. For example, Kasich has offered a full-throated defense of the controversial Common Core educational standards.

“Part of the problem is today politicians are running to try and to get votes,” Kasich said during a January appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”

“I don’t know how anybody can disagree with [Common Core] unless you’re running for something,” he said.

Additionally, Kasich drew particular ire from conservatives in 2013 when he chose to embrace federal expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare and announced Ohio would participate in the engrossed program.

“John Kasich’s decision to expand Medicaid in Ohio in 2013 was a costly mistake,” David McIntosh, president of the conservative SuperPac giant Club for Growth, said Tuesday in a statement.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the three other Republican governors in the hunt for the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination who were in office during the new Medicaid expansion effort, all opposed the Obamacare-linked initiative in their states.

What does it matter, you may ask? Support for Common Core, only mild opposition to Obamacare, and a nose held high at conservative social positions sounds like other top-tier candidates gunning for the GOP nod, notably former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. But for the establishment wing of the party, and the significant donor base it carries, Bush, and others like Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, have already been knighted their favorites.

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Earlier this month, Bush boldly staked out the position of top establishment candidate when he announced his SuperPac raised $103 million. For Kasich, there likely aren’t enough dollars remaining in the establishment pool to successfully build the organizations and run the ads necessary to carve out a winning chunk in the early states, or to compete across the nation in a dragged-out primary fight.

A Historic Precedent, but Not for President

When Ronald Reagan picked his running mate in 1980, he selected an establishment standard-bearer with an unquestionable resume. George H.W. Bush had been a congressman, ambassador to the United Nations, chairman of the Republican National Committee, President Ford’s special envoy to China, and the director of the CIA. Most agree it was a brilliant pick to bolster the conservative communicator’s candidacy with an establishment darling who boasted unimpeachable experience.

Kasich may be the George H.W. Bush of 2016. The Ohio governor served in Congress for 18 years, garnering foreign policy experience on the House Foreign Relations Committee before taking the gavel as chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee. During his tenure as chairman, Kasich was a partner to the 1997 balanced-budget deal between President Clinton and House Republicans. That deal was the first time the federal government passed a balanced budget since 1969.

“They said it couldn’t be done, and we proved them wrong,” Kasich said in his announcement of the grand budget bargain. “I do believe in the power of big, bold ideas… [they] change the world.”

“They said it couldn’t be done, and we proved them wrong,” Kasich said in his announcement of the grand budget bargain. “I do believe in the power of big, bold ideas… [they] change the world.”

Nine years after leaving Capitol Hill, Kasich took on an incumbent governor in his home state of Ohio and rode the 2010 Republican wave to victory. Kasich was seen as so popular following his first term the Democrats had trouble recruiting viable candidates to oppose his re-election. Kasich won 86 of 88 counties in critical swing-state Ohio in 2014.

Takeaway

It may be that Kasich is not one on whom to bet the house for the Republican nomination for president. But if a conservative wins the nod, Kasich could be the stand-out running mate to recruit to the ticket. Kasich is a hugely popular figure in a must-win state; as a VP pick he would please the establishment; and he would ruin any Democratic hopes to exploit an inexperienced GOP running mate.

At the end of the day perhaps Kasich will surprise everyone and establish a narrative urgency for his bid for the top job, but it doesn’t seem likely.

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