On a wintry night last week Ohio’s Republican governor John Kasich took to the stage in a theatre in New Hampshire’s largest city as a snowstorm churned its way toward town. He quickly abandoned the podium to speak to the audience from the ground, at their level and out of the spotlight that had been shining.
The governor lauded the important work done by journalists across the world to hold the rich and powerful accountable while also attacking the sitting president and speaking about the need to unify as a nation.
In responding to questions from the audience, Kasich talked about how the United State’s allies view the country during the turbulent times of Donald Trump’s presidency and how immigration issues cannot be solved at America’s borders.
To be clear, Kasich has not said he is running for the White House in 2020 against his own party’s president. And he was in New Hampshire at the invitation of the Nackey S Loeb School of Communications to speak at its annual First Amendment Awards, not to campaign.
But any politician’s visit to the state – which hosts the first presidential primary in the nation – is viewed as testing the waters for a potential run. And, of course, the last time a keynote speaker took the stage at these First Amendment Awards two years before a presidential contest, he went on to win not only the New Hampshire primary, but also the presidency. That man was Trump.
In New Hampshire, election season begins early. And if there is to be a Republican rebellion against Trump in 2020, New Hampshire is where its fires will be lit. Kasich’s visit has now firmly kindled speculation about a coming Republican civil war.
Kasich, who came in second in the New Hampshire primary to Trump in 2016, has been a somewhat regular visitor to the state recently and is seen as a possible challenger.
But he is not alone.
Arizona senator Jeff Flake, a vocal Republican critic of the president, is also being floated as a potential insurgent candidate. Like Kasich, he has made several recent trips to New Hampshire, including an appearance at a Saint Anselm College’s Politics and Eggs event in March, a traditional stop for those seeking to win the New Hampshire primary. He also did not seek re-election this year. And while he has not said he is running, Flake has said that a Republican “needs” to challenge Trump in 2020.