Images by Chris Faraone
The same annoying commercial for Burger King kept playing over and over on the app I was using to stream CNN on the morning after the Iowa caucus. They’re pushing something called an Extra Long Buttery Cheeseburger, and their slogan is, “Buttery sauce, because that makes everything taste better.”
Just when I thought the ads couldn’t get any cheesier, I switched over to the local dial as I crossed the border into New Hampshire. Driving under an enormous overpass placard for Chris Christie, I heard about Jeb Bush’s American exceptionalism in a spot from the Right to Rise USA PAC, about Carly Fiorina’s CEO-from-secretary story in the candidate’s own words, and about Donald Trump from his daughter Ivanka, whose dad said she can accomplish anything if she simply works hard enough. The talking heads on radio and surrogates they’re interviewing weren’t any smarter, all essentially regurgitating phrases spun by handlers.
While so many in the media buzzed over fast food candidates like Trump and Iowa caucus winner Ted Cruz, however, I started the first day of the Granite State dash with the least buttery Republican of all.
Hillary Clinton and Bush signs dot the thawing skirt of 103 West, which I rode into the lakeside hamlet of Newbury, where underdog John Kasich was scheduled to speak at a veterans post. The Ohio Governor skipped the final haul in Iowa, where he picked up just a single lonely delegate in eighth place with approximately 2 percent of caucus votes. Instead he hammered away in New Hampshire, where Kasich’s polling well in part due to his hosting intimate question-and-answer forums like this one, his 90th to date, all across the state.
The hospital-clean hall was standard-issue Americana, with smooth unblemished wooden panels on the ceiling, walls, and floor. Most in attendance were retirees, about 50 of your garden-party variety baby boomers and post-boomers with quality boots in good repair and, in a couple cases, L.L. Bean-style outerwear from hat to toe. Almost any of the neatly flanneled men in the room could play POTUS on a cable drama, their rugged preppy swagger similar to that of Kasich, who looks like a Viagra version of Rob Lowe in “Tommy Boy.”
The candidate stepped up after a glowing introduction from Gordon Humphrey, a model sane Republican and former US Senator from New Hampshire who applauded Kasich’s ability to work with Democrats. Such bonafides did not seem to bother people, some of whom even suggested that the governor tout endorsements he received from the New York Times and the Boston Globe. Such praise would be tantamount to public shaming for some hopefuls, but for Kasich, who truly likes to wonk it up god bless his nerdy heart, the nods from newspapers of record play right into the pride he has in being a sensible and tough fiscal alternative who pledges to karate chop taxes and to kneecap the national debt.
Though Kasich superficially sounds like your average neoliberal Democrat on the stump, rhetorically—if you listen closely—he’s radically pro-business, even saying he would freeze all regulations for a year except for those affecting health and safety, as if that’s a simple distinction to make. His everyday dude demeanor may be calming, but it’s hardly sympathetic to those who are struggling. Kasich appeals to folks who appreciate that his branding resembles a yacht club logo, who have the mind to follow his labyrinthine policy explainers, and who by and large agree with his attitude that “our country is fine.”
With independents in the room along with a spattering of admitted Dems, Kasich had to entertain some inquiries that might get someone pummeled in a scrum outside a Trump rally. When a woman who runs a nonprofit retreat house for clergy members asked how Kasich would replace the Obamacare assistance that makes it possible for her establishment to operate, the governor explained that he doesn’t simply loathe the current policy because having such a sentiment is en vogue in the GOP, but rather because President Obama hasn’t done enough to address rising healthcare costs.
The entire civilized ordeal was a throwback to the campaign of Jon Huntsman, the comparably respectable former governor of Utah who enjoyed a similar reception in the southern throes of picturesque New Hampshire back in 2012. Also the victim of a Globe endorsement, Huntsman spoke secular English and placed third, which is probably around where Kasich will land. Because if the Globe and the Times like the guy who thinks America is “fine,” the voting base that rages for the primary is probably more likely on a whole to side with a voice preaching fire and brimstone.