While Nasty and Nastier duke it out in the primaries, the third man in the race for the GOP presidential nomination wants to be seen as the adult alternative to emerge when his competitors eliminate each other.
Polls may show that John Kasich has the best chance of winning in November, but the problem is that his chance of getting the nomination are diddly squat, as we Ohioans say. Especially on the first ballot. Donald Trump is threatening Chicago 1968 redux if he doesn’t get it, and Ted Cruz has been cleverly outmaneuvering the over-confident billionaire by mastering the arcane rules of delegate selection, but he’s also likely to fall short of the magic 1,237 votes.
It’s easy to see Kasich as a likable, moderate conservative when the comparison is to Cruz. Ronald Reagan would be a flaming liberal next to that guy. The arch-conservative evangelical Texas senator is the most reactionary and despised member of the Senate, and that’s just among fellow Republicans.
Trump claims to be a conservative but it’s impossible to know for sure. His views shift on a whim, and even he may not be sure where he stands until he opens his mouth.
The Ohio governor is more likable than his rivals, but that’s a no-brainer. He’s the grown-up watching the other two battle like babies and bullies on a playground.
That “calm adult” persona he tries to project is not the one his Ohio Statehouse colleagues are familiar with. A former aide who spent 17 years working with Kasich said he has “anger management problems” and tends to be “preachy [and] self-righteous.”
But what about his record? He served nine terms in the House of Representatives, starting out as a right-wing bomb thrower but maturing to a leadership role with a reputation for bipartisan cooperation. He was a Fox News host before spending eight years as a managing partner of Wall Street giant Lehman Brothers before running for governor in 2010.
He may battle with the very conservative GOP-led General Assembly, but he has signed every measure they’ve sent him to restrict abortion rights, suppress voting rights and weaken the unions.
His biggest fight with the legislature was over his un-Republican decision to expand Ohio’s Medicaid program under Obamacare. He boasts the decision was the Christian thing to do, but now he wants make low income and disabled Medicaid recipients pay a monthly fee for their coverage or lose it.
During a New Hampshire campaign appearance he proposed cutting Social Security benefits “to save the program.” When a listener objected, he told her, “You’re going to have to get over it.” The better alternative is to make the rich pay the same proportion of their income as the rest of us, but that would violate Republican doctrine.
He has also spoken of a flat income tax, which would mean large increases in sales taxes, disproportionately placing the burden on middle and lower income people who don’t have the kind of disposable income of the wealthy, who would benefit most from the proposal.
Kasich boasts of cutting state spending but much of that has come at the expense of state workers and local governments. He has signed laws that cut into home rule powers to raise and spend funds.
One of his plans to raise revenue was to permit fracking to retrieve oil and gas in (and under) state parks and forests, but he has backed off for now as oil prices plunged and environmental groups filed suit. Kasich, the first governor to roll back his state’s renewable energy standards, told one campaign audience that industrial pollution isn’t all bad because “free enterprise” has “lifted people out of poverty.”
Foreign policy has not been a major theme of his campaign. He pledged strong support for Israel and said any disagreements between Washington and Jerusalem should be aired in private, not publicly as President Barack Obama has often done.
That should be relatively easy because Kasich indicated he would pursue a laissez-faire approach.
He is pessimistic about the chances for Israeli-Palestinian peace and would steer clear unless both sides invited the United States to mediate, he said. Meanwhile, they should “work it out amongst themselves.”
He has no intention of being neutral in that dispute, however, and denounced the Palestinian Authority’s “culture of hate.”
Where he would get involved is the war against Islamic State (ISIS). As president he would send in combat troops.
One war he’s been waging intensely is against women’s reproductive rights.
He may have criticized Cruz and others in Congress who wanted to shut down the government to force an end to funding for Planned Parenthood, but that didn’t keep him from cutting off all state aid to the group.
That was one of many measures he signed to restrict abortion access, effectively forcing closure of half the state’s abortion clinics. He has also been cutting state funding for women’s and infants’ health programs, HIV testing and rape prevention programs.
At a Town Hall meeting in upstate New York last week, he was asked by a college freshman how he could protect her from sexual violence on campus.
Kasich, the father of twin 16-year-old daughters, told her, “Don’t go to parties where there’s a lot of alcohol, OK?” He opposes same sex marriage but says since the Supreme Court ruled on the issue it is settled law and he wouldn’t seek to change it. “I’m for moving on.”
Kasich said as governor he would not sign any anti- LGBT laws like those in North Carolina or Mississippi, but as president he wouldn’t interfere if states enacted them.
He sees moral equivalence on both sides of the issue and said they should respect each other’s “legitimate” “deeply held” beliefs, so “just relax” and “get over it.”
He has been part of the nationwide Republican effort to limit voting rights by reducing access to the polls, eliminating same-day registration and voting, reducing the number of days for early voting, restricting absentee ballots and cutting hours that polling places are open. It is no coincidence that those hurt most by these measures are minorities, the elderly and the working class. Kasich dismissed objections, saying it was all done in the name of efficiency.
A Daily Beast profile by his longtime Hill staffer said, “He’s conservative but at least he’s sane.” Kasich isn’t calling for waterboarding, mass deportations, carpet- bombing or ripping up treaties and laws, said the aide, Mike Lofgren, and that makes his the least scary finger on the nuclear button. “We could do worse – and I fear we probably will.”