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Kasich Gets Confrontational in GOP Debate

Count this as one campaign promise that was kept: John Kasich aggressively took on his fellow Republicans in Wednesday night's GOP presidential debate.

By Darrel Rowland

Count this as one campaign promise that was kept: John Kasich aggressively took on his fellow Republicans in Wednesday night's GOP presidential debate.

How many political points he scored will be sorted out in coming days, but the Ohio governor made sure of one thing: He won't be ignored in the debate post-mortems.

The debate bordered on chaos at times as the 10 candidates all tried to talk at once, ignored admonitions that it wasn't their turn, or talked well beyond their time limit. Along with tossing barbs at each other, the candidates found a common foe in the media -- especially the CNBC moderators asking the questions -- a theme that drew cheers and applause from the GOP crowd in the Coors Events Center.

For example, the first question to Trump was, "Is this a comic book version of a presidential campaign?"

Trump bristled. "It's not a comic book, and it's not a very nicely asked question, the way you say that."

Later, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio remarked, "Democrats have the ultimate super PAC -- it's called the mainstream media."

And a question about the use of Dr. Ben Carson's image on a website without his knowledge drew loud boo's.

"I think that if there is a theme in this debate it's that the Republicans are championing a populist message," said Jeff Motter, a communication instructor at debate host University of Colorado and a former campaign staffer. "The emphasis on citizens versus the government or democrats is an important point to show that the GOP are the champions of the middle class."

Kasich set his tone by avoiding the first question of the debate and going straight to the heart of his promised message: "I want to tell you, my great concern is that we are on the verge, perhaps, of picking someone who cannot do this job."

Later he said, "You can't do it with empty promises. You know, these plans would put us trillions and trillions of dollars in debt. I actually have a plan. I'm the only one on this stage that has a plan that would create jobs, cut taxes, balance the budget, and can get it done because I'm realistic. You just don't make promises like this."

Ohioan Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said, "Kasich deserves credit for not shrinking from his criticism of (Donald) Trump. The problem for the Ohio governor was that his attack happened right at the start of the debate, and it did not become a theme throughout. So for viewers with short memories, it's unclear whether Kasich's exchange stood out after a grueling two-hour debate."

Scott Adler, a political scientist at the University of Colorado, said, "Kasich came out swinging, particularly against his GOP rivals. He clearly didn't like being stuck on the end of the stage. Though he had obviously thought about the issues and had real plans, the Coors Events Center was not his crowd. I'm not sure he moved the needle for his campaign."

Kasich's critique drew return fire only from Trump.

The billionaire said Ohio's economy has recovered due to the fracking boom, not Kasich.

And Trump added: "This was the man that was a managing general partner at Lehman Brothers when it went down the tubes and almost took every one of us with us, including Ben (Carson) and myself, because I was there and I watched what happened. And Lehman Brothers started it all. He was on the board, and he was a managing general partner."

Trump was wrong; Kasich was not on the board.

"I think what happened tonight is that I was able to say, on the stage, that we're going to be real about things, we're not just going to make up numbers or make up stories," Kasich said after the debate. "I got to the point where I sorta got fed up with this and I think p need to know what the truth is form somebody that has experience."

He added, "I think what got 'em revved up is I said Fantasyland is over. You can't just keep making stuff up and dreaming up these programs that just don't work."

Having their moments in the sun but not initially appearing to make much impact were former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Kasich, lagging in national polls and slipping a bit even in much-visited New Hampshire, came into the debate vowing to more aggressively take on his challengers. His campaign team said the new emphasis came from Kasich himself.

In preceding weeks on the campaign trail, Kasich would on occasion criticize proposals from other candidate. But it was done so subtly that it almost went unnoticed.

However, once he rolled out a sweeping proposal two weeks ago of what he would tackle his first 100 days as president -- including launching a plan to balance the budget in eight years, cut taxes and raise defense spending -- he grew more and more impatient with those making what he viewed as reckless statements without putting forth facts and figures like he did on how they would accomplish their bold talk.

Then on Sunday, Trump tried to take credit for bringing Ford jobs to Ohio -- a deal finalized by Kasich in 2011 -- and the governor had heard enough.

"I want you to know I'm fed up. I'm sick and tired of listening to this nonsense and I'm going to have to call it like it is in this race," Kasich said in debuting his new tone during a pre-debate sendoff Tuesday in his longtime home of Westerville.

After ticking off some "crazy" proposals from his opponents, Kasich wondered, "What's happened to our party? What's happened to the conservative movement?"

The four Republicans at the bottom of national polls faced off in a separate debate that ended a hour before the main event: U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former New York Gov. George Pataki and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

One of the key questions following the debate is whether any of the 15 GOP candidates will drop out. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry quit after the Cleveland debate in August and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker gave up following the September face-off in California.

The next Republican debate is Nov. 10 in Milwaukee, and once again national polls will determine who qualifies for the prime-time portion as well as for the debate itself.

(c)2015 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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