How a Lifelong Politician is Repackaging Himself in the Year of the Outsider

If you’ve never worked in government, then now's the time to run for president.

— -- If you’ve never worked in government, then 2016 is your year if you want to win the Republican presidential nomination.

Businessman Donald Trump and neurosurgeon Ben Carson repeatedly top polls, and another candidate with roots in the business world, Carly Fiorina, is popular, too, as GOP voters seem ready to reject the classic presidential candidate drawn from the halls of Congress or a governor’s mansion.

Enter John Kasich, the Ohio Republican who was first elected to state government when he was 26, served in Congress for 18 years and is now in his second term as Ohio governor. He and his supporters kicked off his campaign emphasizing his leadership and executive experience, but as he flails in the polls while the "outsiders" soar, his campaign has pivoted to repackage him as part of that popular group.

Here are four ways a longtime elected official like Kasich can present himself as an "outsider" in this cycle's race for the White House:

CHANGE THE DEFINITION OF 'OUTSIDER'

Kasich frequently talks about how he ruffled feathers in Congress when he served there in the 1980s and 1990s, and for the few years he was in the Ohio Senate before that. Just because he was in government doesn't mean he followed his fellow politicos' machinations, he says, like when he led the effort to balance the federal budget in the 1990s.

Kasich says a break from politics in the 2000s -- which he spent at Lehman Brothers and Fox News -- provided him a valuable private-sector perspective, and he argues he's a hybrid who reformed government from the inside-out. Still, he’s quick to add, he thinks some experience is necessary.

"You can have somebody who is all for reforms, but if they don't understand how to get it done, then where does that leave us?" he said in New Hampshire earlier this month, days after referring to himself as a "troublemaker" during a Richmond town hall. "You have to have somebody who has been a reformer to change the essence of the town, and you know if I am there, the whole place is going to get upside down."

THROW OUT YOUR OLD ADS

A super PAC supporting Kasich, New Day for America, has blanketed the New Hampshire airwaves with millions of dollars worth of television ads. The first several focused on Kasich's resume -- his experience as an insider, some might say -- but on October 9, the group released an ad called "Reformer" and hasn’t looked back.

The Kasich campaign itself has similarly altered its messaging.

A video on its YouTube page popular last month emphasized Kasich's relationship with Ronald Reagan, which dates back to the 1970s. Another highlighted Kasich touting his record.

Flash forward to last week, when a new video portrayed the governor talking about how he'd change government. "Isn't this country about all of us," he asked in a speech in New Hampshire this month that the clip highlights, "not the big shots in Washington?"

PUT THE BIG MONEY BEHIND YOUR MESSAGE OF REFORM

New Day for America recently told its donors it would pivot away from extolling the politician's biography and would push "Kasich's reputation as someone who has always shaken up the system to fix big problems."

The super PAC has spent $11.5 million on television ads that started in New Hampshire in July and will run through the state's primary in February (Kasich and the group have pinned their hopes on success in the Granite State). That's a lot of commercials drilling home the message that Kasich is a reformer.

IF ALL ELSE FAILS, COMPARE YOURSELF TO A 'BUCKIN' BRONCO'

At town halls across New Hampshire, Kasich has increasingly presented himself as someone who upset the status quo whenever he was in office.

Last week, an animal analogy entered the mix when he spoke about the start of his time in Congress.

"I was a buckin' bronco," he told folks in Newport, New Hampshire. "I went down there, just like I did in the [Ohio] legislature, to shake things up."