In a piece broadly hinting about which pols both parties should look to as future presidential possibilities, The Monkey Cage‘s John Sides assesses the political strength and weakness of the nation’s governors as compared to their states’ “fundamentals” and comes up with this profile of the most successful chief executives:

Five incumbents—New York’s Cuomo, plus Republicans Robert Bentley (Ala.), Bill Haslam (Tenn.), John Kasich (Ohio), and Brian Sandoval (Nev.)—lead the pack. Each enjoys a margin in the polls that is at least six points bigger than predicted by state fundamentals. At the top of the list is Kasich, whose current 63-37 percent polling margin puts him an astounding 11 points ahead of predictions. To get a sense of Kasich’s strength, compare his performance to that of fellow Midwestern Republican governors Walker and Michigan’s Rick Snyder—both of whom are just barely beating expectations in the polls. To be sure, Kasich had the good fortune to draw a remarkably weak opponent whose candidacy has basically imploded. But during his term as governor, he’s also largely avoided the kind of knock-down, drag-out ideological fights catalyzed by Snyder and Walker over state policy. Governing from the middle (at least relative to their states’ electorates) has also been an approach ascribed to Cuomo, Haslam, and Sandoval.

Cuomo, as you probably know, is intensely unpopular among progressive Democrats, aside from those who fear his skyscraper-toppling King Kong ego. I don’t think anybody’s going to be running Bill Haslam (much less Robert Bentley) for president. Sandoval mostly makes Veep lists, and mostly because he’s Latino.

So let’s look at the “astounding” Kasich. As fate would have it, he’s in the news today for tripping over himself to re-establish his anti-Obamacare street cred after incautiously allowing as how the health reform law wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Here’s his formulation, per Politico‘s Sarah Wheaton:

“From Day One, and up until today and into tomorrow, I do not support Obamacare,” the Republican governor said on Monday evening. “I never have, and I believe it should be repealed.”

Except for the Medicaid expansion part — which wouldn’t exist without the law. Kasich thinks there ought to be a way to save it.

“I have favored expanding Medicaid, but I don’t really see expanding Medicaid as really connected to Obamacare,” he said.

Ha ha ha. And, I might add, ho ho ho. Salon‘s Simon Maloy takes a ball peen hammer to Kasich’s BS “distinction:”

That is outright nonsense from start to finish. You can’t sign your state up for one of Obamacare’s most important provisions and then say “I do not support Obamacare.” You also can’t repeal Obamacare and argue that the Medicaid expansion created by Obamacare will somehow survive. The incentive for states to expand Medicaid coverage was that the federal government would pick up the vast majority of the cost for the new enrollees. Kasich is arguing that the ACA should be repealed, but the hundreds of billions of dollars of federal spending it authorizes shouldn’t be affected. That doesn’t make any sense.

What’s even less credible is Kasich’s claim that “I don’t really see expanding Medicaid as really connected to Obamacare.” As a basic factual matter, that’s false. It’s like saying you don’t really view your heart as part of your circulatory system.

Kasich is, of course, following a broader party pattern in pretending you can have Obamacare’s popular provisions without all that bad stuff about individual mandates and community rating and required services. It is ironic, of course, that a governor belonging to the “limited government” party would choose to preserve the part of the Affordable Care Act that extended a Great Society “big government” and “welfare” program instead of the part borrowed from GOP health plans that involves private health plans competing in purchasing markets. We’ll see how well that goes over in Iowa if Kasich actually runs for president.

In any event, if Kasich is, as Sides suggests, a model of “governing from the middle,” I guess that means taking both sides of an argument simultaneously.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.