For reasons that are presumably known only to himself, John Kasich is still running for President. It's something of a mystery as to why he even jumped in the race. His poll numbers have never been good, and he's frankly uninspiring as a speaker. What's more, he just doesn't seem to like talking to potential voters. It's something of a running theme in his appearances, and Iowans are now finding this out as the state's caucus nears. On Monday, the Ohio governor stopped by a coffee shop in West Des Moines for his one and only scheduled pre-caucus appearance in the state. The Des Moines Register's account of what happened is brutal, and it doesn't take long to figure this out. It opens with the lines:
It was an unusual Iowa campaign trip – John Kasich flew in for just one (1) rally.
Then he alternately complimented and playfully antagonized the people who had come to listen to him speak.
Any time a media report of a campaign appearance includes a phrase like what I've bolded, you know the campaign in question is painfully out of touch with how to reach people. It's just not a good idea for a politician, particularly one campaigning for higher office, to get in the habit of antagonizing his audiences. Here's how he handled the audience members he knew were from Iowa:
When Iowans asked him questions, Kasich interrupted to say: "That's a beautiful red jacket!" or "Beautiful scarf" or "That's my favorite Iowan!"
To one audience member, Kasich said: "Is that your son with you?" Then to the man's son: "You go to Iowa State? Are you old enough to drive?" Laughter broke out in the audience, but others later wondered if Kasich's teasing may have embarrassed the 19-year-old student.
This is just the sort of patronizing elitism rank-and-file conservatives have come to expect from establishment Republican candidates. They only interact with the "unwashed masses" when they have to, and even then only begrudgingly.
But apparently, there was a sizable portion of his audience from a couple of out of state colleges, LSU and Principia College in Illinois, who had come to learn about Presidential campaign trail politicking. Rather than be gracious to this group, who had done nothing to annoy him except being there, he asked the audience "Anyone from Iowa?" and then lectured them on drug use and other things:
"We're like, wait, we don't do drugs. Do I look like I do drugs?" Helen Frink, a Baton Rouge resident studying sociology at LSU, told the Register later.
Kasich asked the female students if they understand what Islamic State radicals think about women.
"Do you young ladies, do you understand what they think about you going to college? Can anybody tell me?" he said.
Later, Kasich said: "I'm astounded that these young people here did not know what the ISIS threat meant. I'm shocked. I mean, are you kidding me?"
Several students said they thought his earlier question had been rhetorical.
"Some people were offended that he was saying we're not up on the news," said Emelie Fredrikson, a St. Louis resident studying global perspectives at Principia College.
College students get and deserve a lot of ire, but there is no indication in this piece that they were doing anything other than being respectful members of the audience. If anything, the fact that they were willing to turn up for a Republican's appearance deserves some small level of praise.
The appearance gets weirder, though, as it seems that Kasich showed up to this coffee shop without really preparing for some easily foreseeable questions from the audience. When asked about how he would make child care more affordable, he replied, "I don't have a good answer for you as to what we do," and when asked about the Renewable Fuel Standard, he told the audience that he'd "already sold out on that one." It's bad enough that he's antagonizing and patronizing his audience, but it's even worse when a politician talks about how he's "sold out" on an issue. If he were a serious threat to win the Republican nomination, it would be easy to see some of his rivals using this against him.
As I alluded to earlier, this is not some one-off bad day type of appearance for him. This seems to be his de facto approach to meeting with potential voters. Back in October, he held a town hall on the campus of the University of Richmond, where he was similarly flippant with his audience. Here's how part of his question and answer session went:
While calling on sophomore Kayla Solsbak, who was nearly jumping out of her seat to get noticed, Kasich said with a laugh, “I’m sorry, I don’t have any Taylor Swift tickets.”
Kasich also said at one point, “I’m sure you get invited to all of the parties,” to one of the female students sitting in the front row of raised seats.
Furthermore, if you're willing to ignore their attachment to the Libertarian nominee in the 2012 Ohio gubernatorial race, Reason has an excellent profile of Kasich's general smugness, but here's the important part:
If you talk to Ohioans—and Ohio is my home state, so I do—you'll find that most people don't really like Kasich, not even Republicans. They might like his stance on spending, or taxes, or abortion, but Kasich himself? Arrogant.Condescending. Manipulative.
This man is, for whatever reason, running for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. However, while not legally a requirement, one of the necessities of politicking and running for office is that you either like the people who will vote for you or can fake it effectively. John Kasich apparently fails at doing both, and it looks like Iowans understand it as well as people across the country do. If this is how he treats ordinary Americans, then it's just another signal, if his lackluster--to be charitable--poll numbers weren't enough of one, that he needs to drop out of the race.