John Kasich rules the GOP town hall

Kasich: Be present for others' wins and losses
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Story highlights

  • He's not a skilled entertainer like Trump or the scion of a political dynasty like Bush, but the Ohio governor showed humanity and smarts, says Dean Obeidallah
  • Obeidallah says Trump's answers were the same we have seen for a while: broad-stroked and lacking in details.

Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM's weekly program "The Dean Obeidallah Show," a columnist for The Daily Beast and editor of the politics blog The Dean's Report. Follow him on Twitter: @TheDeansreport. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)Donald Trump may have been the third candidate to appear on Thursday's GOP town hall on CNN, but still he loomed large over the entire event.

Both John Kasich and Jeb Bush, the other two candidates involved, were asked about Trump's fight with Pope Francis, a battle which seems more like an "SNL" sketch than real life. And my Twitter feed was filled with people awaiting Trump's arrival: Would he be combative? Would he apologize to the Pope? Or would he take a swipe at the Dalai Lama or Mother Teresa?
    There's no doubt Donald Trump was the most entertaining. But who won the night? It was John Kasich.
    Trump's ease as a television personality was expected. He is a celebrity who hosted 14 seasons of a reality show. Comparing Trump to Bush or Kasich in terms of performance skills would be like pitting me against LeBron James in a slam-dunk contest.
    But Kasich stood out in being able to combine policy details with sincere and often moving personal stories. His interview began with a clip from a compelling event that had taken place earlier that day when a young man tearfully hugged Kasich after revealing that Kasich had helped give meaning to his life.
    Kasich offered folksy charm, as he talked of "slowing down." And he shared a moving personal story of battling what was, in essence, depression after his parents were killed by a drunken driver in 1987.
    And Kasich offered details -- sometimes too many -- in response to questions. The greatest contrast to Trump was in terms of health care. Kasich, as a sitting governor, spoke in detail about his plan to address health care.
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    In contrast, Trump gave us the cliche -- "repeal and replace" Obamacare. And Trump's replacement plan is apparently a series of soundbites lacking in nuance. I would expect Kasich to have attracted some new voters tonight.
    After Kasich came Jeb Bush. Or as should I call him, "Poor Jeb Bush."
    You can't help but feel for the guy. His mother was even in the crowd. But Bush was painful. His long, meandering answers were the equivalent of drinking an industrial size dose of Sleepy Time Tea.
    You can literally feel both the personal and political burden weighing on Bush.
    He even noted as much, commenting on his father being his hero and striving to emulate him. I can't imagine the pressure of being the son and brother of two former Presidents of the United States, but looking at Jeb gave me a sense of how daunting that must be. It's unlikely Jeb won over too many new voters, but he probably didn't lose any either.
    And then came Trump. He's such a seasoned entertainer that he opened with a joke by saying, "The Pope is a wonderful guy." Obviously that was the topic of the night given what had transpired earlier in the day. Trump slightly backpedaled in his fight with the Pontiff, blaming Mexico instead for somehow pushing the Pope to call out Trump for wanting to build a wall.
    Emotional John Kasich gives man facing hardships a hug
    Emotional John Kasich gives man facing hardships a hug

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    Trump's answers all night were the same we have seen for anyone who has followed him: broad stroked and lacking in details. The most honest and unique moment was when Trump talked about Michael Jackson losing his confidence and how that hurt him.
    And a moment that summed up the craziness of this race was when moderator Anderson Cooper fact checked Trump on his statements about the Iraq War, using his appearance in 2002 on the Howard Stern show. (That may be a first in U.S. presidential races!) And It turns out that in a John Kerryesque way, Trump was for the war in Iraq before he was against it.
    Look, Kasich is not a celebrity billionaire or part of a political dynasty. He's just John Kasich, a guy from Ohio. But that may end up being just enough.