Opinion

Opinion | Mark Pothier

Kasich is on the sideline of a cage-fighting match

Republican presidential candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, right, holds a town hall campaign event, Monday, Feb. 29, 2016, in Plymouth, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Steven Senne/Associated Press
John Kasich spoke in Plymouth on Monday.

PLYMOUTH — John Kasich said he was disappointed not to find any Pilgrims in Plymouth Monday afternoon, but the Republican presidential candidate was clearly delighted by the polite crowd of about 500 supporters waiting for him in an overheated, overcrowded room at Memorial Hall. The historic building recently was the site of Cage Titans XXVII — a mixed martial arts fighting championship. I’m told Manny Bermudez and Dan Dubuque capped off a sold-out evening of kicks and punches with what organizers described as a “grueling three-round battle.”

On the eve of the 12 Super Tuesday primaries, the Ohio governor is on the sidelines of a different kind of cage match — an increasingly vicious one that may be close to its final round. Kasich has been watching the madness, in obvious disgust, as three sweaty combatants try to bloody and bruise each other. By keeping on the edge of the fray, he’s hoping to be left standing as the civilized alternative to whichever onerous character prevails. Probably the one named Donald Trump.

It was apparent from the start of his town hall gathering in downtown Plymouth that Kasich would be sticking to that plan, even as Trump’s nomination moves closer to becoming inevitable, and Kasich still seems to be gaining more respect than votes. Trump’s name never came up. Neither did Ted Cruz’s or Marco Rubio’s. That’s typical of the “high road by omission” campaign Kasich prefers. He did say the race wasn’t about electing a “class clown” and likened the “throw them all out” attitude of certain candidates and their supporters to knocking “all the chess pieces off the board.” When you do that, he said, “The game is over. It’s over.” But there was no name-calling.

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In the calm warmth of this friendly setting — taking measured swings at softball questions he could have knocked over Plymouth Rock — Kasich came across as confident, likeable, sincere and, yes, presidential. It’s easy to understand his appeal to any Republican seeking refuge from the mud and makeup slinging that is the party’s nomination process in 2016.

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When a retired firefighter asked him what he would do for firefighters and police officers, Kasich said they deserved respect and served a crucial role as first responders. When a teacher asked what he would do for educators, Kasich said they were more important than anyone else. “I’m gonna shift all the federal education programs backs to the states,” he said. When someone asked what he would to do reduce the number of veterans who commit suicide, Kasich said veterans deserved respect and should be able to get health care anywhere they want.

A few minutes later, a man slowly stood up to say he had just been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. He was worried about his grandchildren’s future. “I don’t need a hug,” the man said in a thin voice. “I need you to win.” Kasich hugged him anyway.

“I would rather lose than degrade myself,” Kasich offered at one point, prompting a sustained ovation. And he will lose, unless the three cage fighters somehow mortally wound each other. He sure didn’t sound like someone running for the vice presidential nomination, even though that’s his most realistic shot at being on the ticket in November.

In any other year, Kasich’s message of hope, his economic smarts, and his ability to get things done would give him a reasonable chance of becoming the Republican pick for president.

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In any other year.

Mark Pothier can be reached at mark.pothier@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @markpothier.