August 28. 2016 8:46PM

Kasich: Trump hasn't become more 'presidential'

By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
New Hampshire Union Leader


Ohio Gov. John Kasich says he is unimpressed with the supposed new and improved Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. (REUTERS FILE)

Donald Trump’s campaign eagerly markets that there’s a new, more-presidential Republican presidential nominee, but one of his chief 2016 primary rivals, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is unimpressed.

During a telephone interview Saturday, Kasich said as far as he’s concerned there’s been no “Trump reboot” or “Trump 2.0.”

The fact that candidate Trump has largely stuck to what the Teleprompter says and has offered less of the caustic comments that come into his head — a tendency which marked the previous 15 months of his campaign — does not redefine a candidacy, Kasich said.

“Reboot? I don’t even know what that means,” he said. “There has been no change as far as I can see; it’s the same old thing.”

That’s as close as this Midwestern governor and former longtime congressional budget leader comes to breaking his own, self-imposed gag order on Trump commentary now that he’s no longer a candidate.

“I’ll just let my actions speak louder than words,” Kasich said.

Translation? No Republican has ever won the presidency after losing Ohio’s presidential primary, and Trump lost to Kasich there.

And Trump will have to try and win this key Midwestern state this fall without the direct help of its savvy chief executive.

Instead, Kasich is in the top tier of prominent Republicans in demand nationally if you’re a candidate for governor, U.S. senator, or even a state representative in need of some big-name stumping on your behalf.

“I have a really busy schedule all over the country,” Kasich said.

“I’m going to the south soon. I’ve been out west, to the Midwest and, of course, to the Northeast where some think I can do the most good.

“I am helping governors — if that works for them — senators, House members. I will even do legislative stuff.”

And today it’s back to the Granite State, the first time Kasich has returned since his surprisingly strong second-place finish in February’s primary.

Political observers mark it as one of the earliest moves by a losing primary candidate to begin the comeback tour for a bid in 2020, especially if Clinton is elected president.

“I always love coming back to New Hampshire — that is, of course, if the voters choose to reject me again,” Kasich joked.

Last month in Cleveland, Kasich did not appear at the Republican National Convention that nominated Trump in Kasich’s home state. But Kasich was the star speaker for a breakfast meeting with the New Hampshire delegation during the convention week.

With this trip, Kasich is taking sides in the high-profile primary for New Hampshire governor on behalf of Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, R-Newfields.

The two will take part in a Concord press conference this morning and later a downtown walk in Exeter.

This comes with some risk as Sununu is locked in a tough, four-way primary that he could lose on Sept. 13. If Kasich waited three weeks to make this visit, he could avoid the embarrassment of a Sununu defeat were that to come to pass.

But while the younger Sununu stayed out of this primary, his older brother, former Sen. John E. Sununu, was a permanent fixture at New Hampshire campaign events during the primary.

Former Gov. and White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu likewise was neutral, but offered Kasich plenty of public and private encouragement, according to many New Hampshire Republicans close to the Kasich campaign.

“He is a dear friend; Chris is a good man,” Kasich said. “I think so highly of the family and their multiple generations of service to the state and to this country.”

Kasich said on a future trip later this fall he intends to return to raise money for U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., locked in a tough battle with Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, along with a primary challenge from ex-state Sen. Jim Rubens.

Election winners often say they’ll keep in touch with those they’ve bonded with who helped deliver victories. But Kasich said few really do, as the priorities of government service and future political campaigns take over. “A lot of time in politics we really like to stay in touch with the people who believed in us, and it’s hard to do it,” he said. “I have always loved the state; I have great friends there.”

While Trump struggles to keep pace with Democrat Hillary Clinton, Kasich said he believes 2016 may be a year in which down-ballot candidates don’t suffer due to the failures of those at the top.

“I think sometimes we make a whole lot about this thing called coattails, and I question if it’s going to make a difference particularly in New Hampshire,” Kasich said.

“The voters there are so well informed and there is not a drop of cynicism, plus they ask really intelligent questions as well.”

klandrigan@unionleader.com