Give John Weaver some credit. As the majordomo of Jon Huntsman’s 2012 presidential campaign, the former McCain wizard took a useful insight–gee! there’s this crowd of people running frantically to the right, leaving a lot of ground in the middle!–and grossly overdid it, making his candidate a MSM darling who inspired enormous contempt among the people who were actually deciding the GOP presidential nomination.
Four years later, with 16 other candidates competing to be Attila the Hun, and with a more conventionally bankable candidate, the Governor of Ohio, Weaver’s focused very strictly on making Kasich a real player in New Hampshire, and so far, it’s working pretty well. Yes, Team Kasich had to white-knuckle its way past the potentially disastrous straits of the Fox News debate threshold. But now, after a creditable debate performance in which Kasich reminded us there’s a side to Christianity that doesn’t turn Jesus into an angry old landlord complaining about his tenants smoking dope and being late on the rent, he’s showing double-digit support in two straight polls of the Granite State.
In so doing, Kasich isn’t just keeping himself alive. He’s also posing an existential threat to the candidacy of Chris Christie, that other guy who’s staked everything on New Hampshire, and a clear and present danger to Jeb Bush, who for all his money and elite support, will probably need to win a caucus or primary somewhere before Florida’s March 15 contest where he’s on track to kill off Marco Rubio. Jebbie’s got over a hundred million smackers in Super-PAC money itching to be spent on negative ads, and it wouldn’t be too surprising a bit further down the road if New Hampshirites are treated to a steady diet of ads informing them that Kasich is RINO Squish who is taking their hard-earned tax dollars and giving it to those people in socialistic Medicaid dollars, working hand-in-glove with You-Know-Who.
In the end, Kasich’s campaign has the same basic problem as Trump’s: those poll numbers will not look so good once the field is winnowed and candidates with a broad base of potential support–not just Jebbie but possibly Rubio and/or Walker–start capturing some of that scattered support. So while Weaver and company were smart to grap that available slice of moderate support others disdain, Kasich needs support from the significant majority of primary-voting Republicans who instinctively reach for their wallets when a “moderate” asks for their support. Maybe Kasich’s devotion to the drab banner of a Balanced Budget Amendment will do the trick for him. But for now he looks like a flash in the pan.
UPDATE: In a piece on the same subject, the New York Times‘ Jonathan Martin raises another possibility: a red-hot Democratic primary could draw some independent voters who might otherwise back Kasich. I don’t know how many true independents are left in NH, where they can vote in either party’s primary. But this could matter on the margins.