Columnist: Could Kasich win by following in Lincoln’s footsteps?

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 12, 2016

By John A. Tures

Contributing columnist

Sure Ohio Gov. John Kasich seems like a longshot for the Republican nomination, despite his impressive second place showing in New Hampshire. But his strategy for winning the GOP contest is not that different from another longshot presidential hopeful from the Midwest, Abraham Lincoln, who sought to be everyone’s second choice.

For the Civil War class that I teach, I began reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals. It starts with the 1860 GOP Convention, where overconfident Republicans like William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase and Edward Bates wait for the nomination to come to them, while the lesser known Abraham Lincoln, who served a term in Congress and lost two Senate bids, has allies helping him ride the convention to victory.

Lincoln’s secret was to be everyone’s second choice. When Seward’s and Chase’s enemies would work to deny the nomination to that candidate, Lincoln was poised to be the acceptable alternative to all, giving him the win in Chicago, the presidency that fall, and history for the rest.

Of course it’s a different world, with the media and primaries replacing convention politics and communication gaps, and Kasich is no Lincoln. But he does possess a few strengths that the Illinois Republican, and several 2016 GOP candidates, lack.

First of all, Kasich has executive experience, having served as Ohio’s governor. Second of all, he has long Washington, D.C., experience, given his service in Congress, holding the key chairmanship of the budget committee. Third, his experience as a Fox News commentator for many years provides experience with the media that some of his Republican rivals clearly lack, as seen in Rubio’s, Cruz’s and Carson’s debate performances.

Ohioans who supported Kasich flocked to New Hampshire to support his candidacy, which contributed to his impressive finish over better known and funded rivals, the way Lincoln benefitted from Illinois allies flocking to the Chicago convention to back their candidate, while others largely stayed at home and waited.

Many others seeking the GOP nomination have paper-thin resumes for governance, or even service in politics — Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Carson and Fiorina. They have generally staked out extreme positions well out of the mainstream of American politics, where Kasich swims comfortably, as he provides religious reasons to help the less fortunate.

Nick Baumann, Ryan Grim and Matt Fuller with Huffington Post contend that Kasich does have his weaknesses.

“Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who surged to second in New Hampshire, has barely any money and minimal support in the south,” they write.

But Ryan Grim with Huffington Post does note that there is an opportunity for Kasich to do well in a crowded and confused GOP nomination battle:

“His strategists hope that the Republican race will remain muddied over the next couple of weeks, with no candidate emerging as the clear favorite to challenge Trump’s frontrunner status. That would give the Midwestern Kasich space to capture a trove of delegates in the March 8 Michigan primary and the March 15 winner-take-all contest in his home state of Ohio.”

Moreover, Kasich’s ability to win the Boston Globe nomination and place ahead of better funded candidates in the Northeast show his ability to do well in New York, Pennsylvania and the rest of the New England states. Kasich’s showing in New Hampshire can only garner him more attention in the South and Prairie States, as well as money.

And wouldn’t a moderate do better in large states on the Pacific Coast than the more extreme candidates? It’s still a longshot for Kasich, but who would have guessed what Lincoln could have pulled off in May of 1860?

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College. He may be reached at