Soft and Cuddly? John Kasich’s Old Colleagues Don’t Recognize Him
By THOMAS KAPLAN, MICHAEL BARBARO and STEVE EDER
As he tries to halt the momentum of Donald J. Trump, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio tells people they are made special by the Lord. He urges them to invite lonely widows out to dinner. He freely dispenses hugs.
Mr. Kasich’s aura of civility, kindness and positivity is so pronounced — and so at odds with the fulminations of the real estate mogul — that an anxious voter in Worcester, Mass., wondered whether he could summon the combativeness required to be an effective president.
“I worry that you’re just so nice,” the woman said.
Mr. Kasich’s colleagues in Ohio and Washington do not share that worry. In interviews, they recall a three-decade career in government punctuated by scolding confrontations, intemperate critiques and undiplomatic remarks.
Today, as Mr. Kasich makes comity a centerpiece of his long-shot bid for the Republican nomination, they describe his candidacy as an exercise in remarkable self-restraint that has managed to keep his crankier instincts mostly out of sight.
The John Kasich of 2016 is a much mellower politician than the hard-charging congressman of the 1990s, who could be so difficult that House Speaker Newt Gingrich, never known for his diplomacy, offered Mr. Kasich firm advice about his tendency to bulldoze colleagues.
“I talked to him a lot about unlocking people rather than running them over,” Mr. Gingrich recalled, adding of his counsel, “I think some of that actually stuck.”
But not all of it. In Ohio, Mr. Kasich is known for flashes of impatience, anger and disdain. A police officer who pulled him over? An “idiot,” Mr. Kasich said (though he later apologized). Lobbyists? Farm animals with “their snouts in that trough,” in his words. Out-of-state rivals? “Wackadoodles.”
“We see a completely different side of him,” said Lou Gentile, a Democratic state senator. Mr. Gentile recalled Mr. Kasich pulling him aside after a news conference and unspooling a vigorous grievance about how Democrats had not supported a proposal he had championed.
“I literally said, ‘Governor, governor, can I please get a word in here?'”