The guy who the Republican establishment is praying for brought his road show to the Philly area where hundreds of mostly preppy Main Line white kids packed like sardines to hear him speak.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who last night won his home state of Ohio in his quest for the presidency, held a town hall event at Villanova University today (he said he was in Philadelphia — he was not!) and spent a large portion of the time either sounding like a therapist or talking like a teen.
He said Twenty One Pilots’ “Stressed Out” is his campaign theme song. He rolled out to Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance.” He referred to everyone in the room who wasn’t a college student as “grown-ups,” said Uber is overregulated and unapologetically tried to appeal to young Republicans by touting a socially moderate record — one that’s up for debate depending on who you ask.
But he also spent a portion of his time in the spotlight telling the students who came to see him that they’re special. He preached about staying away from drugs (apparently he didn’t hear about ‘Nova’s very recent LSD bust). He told them they have the power to change the world.
“You were made to do something that only you can do by the the creator,”
Rev. Gov. Kasich told the students, “to give you a chance to live.”
Kasich, the veritable “nice guy” of the Republican presidential campaign (not hard when you’re compared to Ted Cruz, of whom his Senate collegues are not a fan, and oft-derided but super-popular Donald Trump), is the first major Republican presidential candidate to make a foray into the Keystone State.
The future of Kasich’s campaign could actually rest in Pennsylvania and our closed, winner-take-all primary that’ll give the victor 71 delegates. The only state between now and the Pennsylvania primary on April 26 that has more delegates is New York, which has 95 delegates up for grabs but operates a proportional primary so delegates can be split between candidates.
However, he’s being sued in a bid to get him off our ballot, after a challenge to his signatures from supporters of Marco Rubio. The challenge, though, may have been filed just a few minutes past the filing deadline and it’s making its way through the state courts system.
Currently, Kasich is in fourth place in terms of the number of delegates. That’s fourth out of three remaining candidates. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who lost his own state by double digits earlier this week, dropped out of the race but still has more delegates than Kasich, who has garnered a total of 142. Sixty-six of those came from his home state of Ohio, which he won on Tuesday.
Now, Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz say there’s basically no path for Kasich to the nomination and they plan to use their collective anti-establishment powers to muscle him out so the campaign can be a two-man race heading into April. Kasich shied away from throwing too much direct shade at Trump or Cruz, though he did say he plans to refrain from taking “the low road” to the presidency.
Still, the crowd at Villanova responded positively to many of Kasich’s anecdotes. He told a story about how he sent a letter to President Nixon when he was a teenager and secured a 20-minute meeting in the Oval Office (which he says was more Oval Office time than he got during his 18 years in Congress). He described growing up in McKees Rocks, Pa. in Allegheny County. And he talked about making the decision to go to Ohio State.
“You realize,” he said, “I’m as idealistic today as I was when I sat in a chair as a student at Ohio State?”
The governor also garnered applause when he answered his first question of the day, which came from an 18-year-old high school senior who wanted to know if there’s a place for young Republicans who consider themselves fiscally conservative, yet moderate on social issues.
He responded by implying that he is. Regarding fiscal conservatism, Kasich took a stab at Bernie Sanders, saying: “The one thing that we don’t want to buy into is this idea of socialism and free stuff.”
But he touted a record as a social moderate and brought up his current stance on rights for gay couples — “If you’re a cupcake maker and somebody comes in that is gay, sell the cupcake” — which has changed over the years. In 2013, Kasich told a reporter that he was for same-sex civil unions, and then hours later his office walked back the statement and said he opposed all forms of same-sex unions. Today, he says gay marriage is the law of the land and he’s not going to fight it.
Kasich called himself a moderate on environmental issues, adding that he believes humans are part of what’s causing global climate change and called for increased investment in renewable forms of energy. And he chided the idea that all Muslims should be banned from immigrating into America, saying to cheers: “There are Muslims fighting in the war right now for the United States.”
One social issue he didn’t address in front of this young crowd: Abortion. Kasich was pivotal in closing half the abortion clinics in his home state of Ohio, and frequently steers clear of discussing the issue, usually diverting when asked. But this crowd didn’t ask.
By far the question that grabbed the most applause of the day came from Jack Shapiro, an 11-year-old boy who Kasich invited on stage with him. Shapiro grabbed the microphone, looked up to Kasich and said: “In terms of your strategy for defeating ISIS, to what extent will American personnel be involved?”
Kasich answered that Americans will be involved in fighting the Islamic State if he’s elected to the White House, describing the group as “evil” and “the sickest group of people we’ve ever seen.”
“Whether they like it or not, the world depends on us,” he told the kid. “Sometimes we have to do more than we think we should and sometimes more than we want to.”