WASHINGTON - Ohio Governor John Kasich became the 16th Republican to join the 2016 presidential race Tuesday, as another Republican contender, Donald Trump, stepped up attacks on his rivals.
Kasich is in his second term as Ohio’s governor and previously served 18 years as a congressman, including as chairman of the House Budget Committee.
Kasich said his experience as a congressman and governor make him uniquely qualified in the Republican field. He also argued that he has a proven record as a leader who has been tested, and that he has learned from the people he led.
“I have lived through them and I have become stronger for them and America has become stronger for them and here is how we have done it: by staying together, not by dividing each other, but by staying together with our eyes on the horizon, with our eyes on the horizon about the future!” he told a crowd at Ohio State University in Columbus.
Kasich has a reputation as an effective budget cutter. But he also has an independent streak and at times has defied his party’s conservative wing. Kasich has shown a willingness to work with Democrats to expand programs for the poor, including access to health care.
Trumped by Trump
Kasich’s entrance into the race was overshadowed by the ongoing furor over Donald Trump. Trump has been under fire for questioning whether Senator John McCain was a war hero, a comment that drew condemnation from several of the other Republican contenders. McCain spent more than five years as a POW during the Vietnam War.
On Tuesday during a rally in South Carolina, Trump went after two of his Republican rivals who have been most critical of him - former Texas governor Rick Perry and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. At one point Trump read off Graham’s phone number to the crowd and urged them to call him, something his rivals will no doubt take note of.
Surging in the polls
Trump has surged in recent public opinion polls including the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll where he leads the Republican field with 24 percent support, followed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker with 13 percent and former Florida governor Jeb Bush at 12 percent.
Trump said he is excited by the polls and added that his surge is driving his rivals “crazy.”
“There is something happening,” Trump told the crowd in South Carolina. “You know there used to be the expression, many of you have heard and for some reason for years it hasn’t been heard, the silent majority. There is a silent majority out there and we are tired of being pushed around, kicked around and being led by stupid people. They are stupid people!”
Analysts not convinced
Republican analyst Scot Faulkner said Trump has tapped into the anger among conservatives about illegal immigration and the direction of the country. But politically, Faulkner warns that the party may be dealing with a double-edged sword in Trump.
“They are saying, doesn’t anyone here just talk from what they believe, even if what they believe might be crazy? And so in many ways he has been a breath of fresh air. On the other hand, he is a person who has probably the highest negatives of anyone running for president because he is such a loose cannon,” Faulkner said.
Despite his surge in recent polls, most analysts do not expect Trump to become the Republican nominee. Some believe that the furor over his comments about McCain could prove to be a turning point in the campaign.
John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center said both political parties have a history of nominating centrist candidates and are likely to do so again in 2016.
“Ultimately, at the end of the day I think you will see the candidate with more of a track record and more in the middle of their party getting the nomination on both sides rather than Donald Trump or [Democratic contender] Bernie Sanders,” Fortier said, referring to Hillary Clinton’s self-described socialist rival.
The first major test for the Republican candidates will be a debate on August 6th in Cleveland. But the debate will be limited to only the top ten Republican contenders based on an average of national public opinion polls, and that is going to leave some very unhappy Republican contenders on the sidelines.