Today a Trump victory seems less far-fetched. It is Kasich, currently polling sixth in New Hampshire (and 21 points behind Trump), who faces long odds of winning there on Feb. 9. Other sitting or former governors have fared little better. The Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal and the Wisconsin governor Scott Walker have dropped out of the race entirely, as has the former Texas governor Rick Perry. The sole exception at the moment seems to be the New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who is campaigning less as a state executive and more as the pugilistic former federal prosecutor he once was — with the result that he has climbed to fourth in New Hampshire (though still ranks near the bottom of the pack in national polls). Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, is polling just ahead of Kasich in fifth place. For Republican primary voters, at least, pilots are mostly out, bombers are in.
Kasich is the purest example of this inversion: What had in previous elections been a badge of honor — not just his executive experience as a governor but his experience in government period — now marks him as a confederate of a corrupt political system that, in the Trumpian view of things, has crippled America. Conversely, the candidates who are currently showing life — Christie as well as two first-term United States senators, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz — have implicitly renounced the low trade of governing, focusing less on what they have done than on what they have prevented from being done.
In this way, ‘‘good governance’’ has become not just an oxymoron but a politically poisonous phrase from a dead language. To utter it is to mark your political extinction — or so the thinking goes in the winning camps these days. Kasich is, in a way, the last holdout, espousing old-fashioned sentiments about America’s yearning to ‘‘hang together’’ and his desire to lead with ‘‘a big heart’’ rather than with a fusillade of invective. His approach may ultimately be proved right, but only if virtually every poll is wrong.