John Kasich May Be the Answer for Jewish Republicans Uneasy About Trump

Kasich, who has strong ties with the Ohio Jewish community and repeatedly stressed his 'strong and emotional' support for Israel, received 15% of the vote in the New Hampshire primary.

John Kasich after the New Hampshire primary in Concord, New Hampshire, Feb. 9, 2016.
AP

Bernie Sanders isn’t the only question on the minds of Jewish voters in the aftermath of the New Hampshire primary.

Many are also likely to spend some time trying to figure out what they think about John Kasich, the Ohio governor who suddenly rocketed into the top of the pack Tuesday by finishing in second place in the Republican New Hampshire primary vote.

Donald Trump, who has drawn a chilly reception from Jewish Republicans, swept to a commanding victory in the primary with an impressive 34% of the vote.

But Kasich, who has strong ties with the Ohio Jewish community, grabbed 16% to finish on top of the heap of rivals vying for the support of the establishment wing of the party.

Florida’s Jeb Bush finished fourth with 12% and Marco Rubio, who stumbled in a disastrous debate performance, got 10%. Chris Christie of New Jersey was even further behind and faces serious questions about his campaign’s viability.

Throughout the campaign Kasich made a point of stressing his “strong and emotional” support for Israel, but when it came to expressing in words his ties to the Jewish people, Kasich, in his speech at the December presidential forum organized by the Republican Jewish Coalition, provided one of the event’s most awkward moments:

“My mother told me one time,” Kasich shared, “she said, ‘Johnny, if you want to look for a really good friend, get somebody who’s Jewish.’”

“And you know why she said that?” he asked the crowd. “She said, ‘No matter what happens to you, your friend, your Jewish friend, will stick by your side and fight right with you and stand by you.’”

Kasich faces an uphill task as the GOP campaign shifts to South Carolina, where he has little organization and his moderate views may face a chilly reception. He also has far less support in national polls than his rivals and has a smaller campaign warchest.

Lost for the moment amid the shake-up in the second tier of the Republican race is the fact that Donald Trump dramatically consolidated his position as front-runner in the tangled race.

In New Hampshire, Trump, at least for the moment, put to rest questions over whether his strong showing in polls was illusory, after he underperformed them last week in Iowa.

His immediate prospects were further helped by the failure of any of the establishment candidates to emerge as a clear challenger. Taken together, the mainstream candidates pulled in enough votes to overcome Trump.

But no single one came close to him and there are few signs of a major consolidation anytime soon. Given his low national profile, Kasich’s second-place win only underscores that analysis.

“The victory by Trump here has the makings of a major disaster for the establishment,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist.

Rubio, the candidate who had been widely viewed as Trump’s biggest threat, suffered deep wounds in New Hampshire after a strong showing in Iowa that some pundits believed would propel him to the top ranks of the establishment Republicans.

After stumbling badly in a debate on Saturday, the man who had been considered by many in the party as its best hope to retake the White House finished far down in the middle of the pack.

“Rubio’s disastrous showing shifted the landscape of the entire campaign,” Dennehy said. He added he had conversations with many undecided voters in recent days who liked Rubio but changed their support to other candidates after the debate.

The Republican nomination race now bends southward, with a primary in South Carolina on Feb. 20 the next test. Trump has held a double-digit lead there for months. His main rival there may well turn out to be Ted Cruz, who can count on support

After South Carolina comes Nevada, and then a spate of Southern states on March 1. All provide Trump with the chance to consolidate his support before any other candidate amasses enough delegates to pose a real threat.

Reuters contributed to this report. For more stories, go to www.forward.com. Sign up for the Forward’s daily newsletter at http://forward.com/newsletter/signup/