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Is John Kasich Too Cranky To Be President?

Image: John Kasich

Ohio Gov. John Kasich answers questions during a recent interview in his office, Wednesday, March 18, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio. The potential 2016 presidential candidate travels to New Hampshire next week. (AP Photo/Mike Munden) Mike Munden / AP

He could be a top contender for the GOP nomination. But first, he might want to get people to stop calling him a jerk.

Republican insiders say that Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is planning to officially enter the 2016 campaign next month, is an experienced swing state governor who could ultimately emerge as one of the party's leading candidates. But Republicans both privately and publicly say that Kasich's style is grating, and they are skeptical of whether it can be effective in a long presidential campaign.

In private settings and sometimes even in public ones, Kasich is known to be brusque, confrontational and dismissive of others' views, even fellow conservatives.

Fred Barnes, the executive editor of the conservative Weekly Standard and an influential voice in GOP politics, said this week Kasich could be the party's nominee if "he stops acting somewhat like a jerk."

"He spends a lot of time criticizing other Republicans ....and that doesn't make any sense," Barnes said in a radio interview this week with Hugh Hewitt, a conservative radio host.

Mark Souder, a former Indiana congressman who served in the House with Kasich, said his former colleague's "lack of patience" would be a "big challenge."

"His mannerisms, his expressions, his sarcasm, etc. can be off-putting at times," said Souder.

Souder added, "If he can survive the initial beating in the early states, and keep his cool without lecturing people or implying they aren't smart enough to understand, I think he has an excellent chance."

Jeb Bush's struggles have potentially created an opening for Kasich, another Republican governor in his 60's. After flirting with a run for most of the year, Kasich has now hired a senior team of advisers that includes one of the men who helped John McCain nearly beat George W. Bush in 2000.

He's beginning to get the kind of exposure a potential candidate needs, too. The Ohio governor, along with several other candidates, will speak on Friday in Park City, Utah at Mitt Romney's annual gathering of influential GOP donors and other figures.

Kasich could be an appealing alternative to Republicans who like Jeb Bush's political approach but are wary that he could be derailed because of the baggage attached to the Bush name. The Ohio governor, like Bush, was twice elected in a key swing state that Republicans desperately need if they want to win the White House.

Kasich is also a more moderate conservative in the Jeb Bush mold. He is a supporter of the Common Core education standards and an occasional critic of Tea Party conservatives. He also backs a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants.

"I think he is smarter and has more knowledge of the issues than Walker and Rubio," said John Feehery, who was a top aide on Capitol Hill when Kasich ran the House Budget Committee.

Kasich is to the left of even Bush on some issues. He has set a goal that at least 15 percent of the companies hired for contracts by the Ohio state government be minority-owned. And his decision in 2013 to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act remains a deep concern on the right.

Conservatives are bitter that Kasich not only expanded Medicaid, as President Obama has urged governors across the country to do, but has cast those who opposed the move as being insufficiently Christian.

He told National Journal earlier this year, "the conservative movement—a big chunk of which is faith-based—seems to have never read Matthew 25." (In this chapter of the Bible, Jesus urges his followers to care for the poor.)

Erick Erickson, the conservative activist who runs the RedState blog, argues Kasich's comments are akin to saying, "Jesus wants him to expand government."

But other Republicans find Kasich's demeanor a welcome change from overly cautious political rhetoric.

"John's a Baby Boomer and tends to a little irreverent in conversation. I think it's kind of refreshing," said Tom Davis, a former Virginia congressman who also served in the House when Kasich.

"Some people think it's not appropriate decorum. I don't look at that as being a jerk. I like candid," Davis added.

Feehery agreed Kasich could overcome questions about his temperament. But he argued that even with Bush's struggles, the ex-Florida governor and the other candidates have spent months courting the GOP's major donors, making it hard for Kasich to raise money.

"I would put him in the top tier, if he can get the money," said Feehery.

But Kasich's personality is already emerging as an issue. After the Ohio governor met with journalists from the Concord Monitor last week, the New Hampshire paper noted, "the prickly Republican began with a tone of irritability."

Fifty minutes into the interview, Kasich suggested that he was bored, even though a key part of his campaign strategy is winning in New Hampshire, where voters are more moderate.

"I'm getting ready to be done with this," he told the reporters. "Are we getting close?"