Though his poll numbers don’t show it, John Kasich won the GOP debate

Pay attention to the compassionate conservative from Ohio.
Pay attention to the compassionate conservative from Ohio.
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And the winner is… John Kasich. The Ohio governor had a home field advantage, but he didn’t need it.

While the national political media focused with laser-like acuity on what the current Republican frontrunner, reality-television star and real-estate mogul Donald Trump, the big story to take away from this first contest is that poll numbers don’t tell the whole story. According to the polls, Ohio governor John Kasich is dead last in the top ten with a measly 2.8%. That’s 9.7% behind former Florida governor Jeb Bush, and 21.5% behind Trump. But that same person sold a very positive and uplifting message whenever it was his turn to speak.

If George W. Bush ran as a compassionate conservative against Al Gore in 2000, John Kasich appears to be running as the right-of-center, common-sense, compassionate conservative that will work hard on behalf America’s most vulnerable citizens. GOP candidates are not particularly fond of government assistance; for Kasich, however, government assistance is not necessarily a bad thing, if it can help improve the lives of people who would otherwise find themselves inside a jail cell, sent to a mental hospital, or pushed to the margins of American society. He defended his record on these issues as governor of Ohio, and refused to back down on the notion that a Republican can indeed be a conservative and use and/or understand the necessity government programs at the same time.

Take Kasich’s answer (from the full transcript) to a question posed by Chris Wallace on how he would refute claims by Hillary Clinton (or any other Democratic nominee) that the GOP stands for rich people:

“Economic growth is the key. Economic growth is the key to everything. But once you have economic growth, it is important that we reach out to people who live in the shadows, the people who don’t seem to ever think that they get a fair deal. And that includes people in our minority community; that includes people who feel as though they don’t have a chance to move up.

You know, America is a miracle country. And we have to restore the sense that the miracle will apply to you. Each and every one of the people in this country who’s watching tonight, lift everybody, unite everybody and build a stronger United States of America again. It will be and can be done.”

Kasich’s best performance during the night was when he dealt with the issue of homosexuality, and how he would explain his opposition to same-sex marriage to his hypothetical gay son or daughter. He could have done what other politicians seeking higher office have done by skirting the issue and using a commonly used formula: Yes, I oppose same sex marriage, but I would still love my child. Instead, Kasich expanded upon that theme to include everyone outside of his family. “Because somebody doesn’t think the way I do, doesn’t mean that I can’t care about them or can’t love them.” He later concluded by saying “God gives me unconditional love. I’m going to give it to my family and my friends and the people around me.”

Who knows if John Kasich will survive until the end, or even make it to Super Tuesday. As a centrist and someone all over the board depending on the issue, it’s possible he’ll follow the path of other unsuccessful moderate GOP bidders—Jon Huntsman, etc. But one can’t deny that he had a terrific night on stage in front of a national audience, and that GOP donors should take a second look at him.