John Kasich managed to get himself into the first Republican prime time debate. Personally, nothing he said really moved me in his direction, but he gets good reviews and several political pundits are singing his praises.
When he was a Congressman, he was sometimes known as Newt Gingrich’s henchman when it came to the federal budget. Today, he touts the fact that he was a key legislator instrumental in formulating the last balanced budget and creating a surplus. Of course, it takes two branches of government to achieve that and unfortunately for Kasich, the husband of the likely Democratic opponent in 2016 led the Executive Branch then. Obviously, Hillary will be quick to point out this political fact. The fact he was in Congress during the last balanced budget with a surplus is light years behind us in political time. The world and the economy have changed dramatically from the Clinton years to the present. If anything, that line of argument is a wash versus Clinton.
Kasich, by highlighting this aspect of his resume, is trying to have it both ways. He is attempting to not only portray himself as an outsider, but also as someone who knows the way of the inside. This way, he can be an outside insider, or an inside outsider. Its a tricky juggling act and one likely to implode in hypocrisy. I like to look at the Republican Party as a coalition of five different broad factions with some overlap between certain factions and no overlap in other areas. The candidate who can boast enough appeal and bring as closely together the various factions in the GOP has the greatest chance of defeating Hillary Clinton. Some suggest that Kasich is that guy.
His “God gave me his unconditional love and I will share it” proclamation at the debate was an appeal to the libertarians and the evangelicals. His clumsy effort at reigning in public worker unions in Ohio was an appeal to the business faction while his expansion of Medicaid has an appeal to and rationale based in establishment rhetoric. Left out of the discussion is that he really did not fight the unions in Ohio and he really did not look for alternative sources of funding for all those things he lists as reasons why he expanded Medicaid.
So in Kasich we get someone who loves Jesus…and Obamacare. We get a perceived fiscal conservative who can give testy interviews and rankle the Party and play the “outsider” game. When it comes right down to it, Kasich is being pushed by the moderate Republican. Look at his tenure as Ohio Governor. His first term was essentially defined as nothing more or less than the compassionate conservatism of George W. Bush. It was government expansion in Ohio and then lectures on morality cloaked in Christian terms if one disapproved. In 2014, pundits were writing about the inevitability of his reelection and that he would win what were traditionally Democratic areas in Ohio. By standing up to more conservative voices, he fed into the criticism that the GOP had embarked on a war against the poor. He was the exception. Medicaid expansion in Ohio was achieved through a legislative-run-around resulting in a drastic redefinition of Medicaid in Ohio. A health care program expanded to decrease incarceration rates?
With a compliant Ohio press behind him and despite warnings that Medicaid expansion would stick the state with unforeseen costs down the line, he forged through regardless. Along the way, he drew on Christianity to shame the Ohio legislature. In short, it was a massive expansion of government in Ohio and something Lyndon Johnson would have been very proud of. It also comes from a man who once described himself as being “Tea Party before there was a Tea Party.” This expansion is projected to cost Ohio taxpayers $4 billion by 2022. By the end of 2011, 25% of Ohio’s doctors were refusing new Medicaid patients.
Given this, why does Kasich keep the “conservative” moniker? The reason is twofold. First, he controls the Ohio Republican Party and any news out of that establishment is purely pro-Kasich. Second, his stint as a sometimes commentator on Fox News gives him some additional conservative credibility. Notice how when questioned about his conservatism how that question is prefaced. It also does not hurt that you have an Ohio media in your corner. And why is the Ohio media in his corner? Because they know he talks the conservative line, but walks the moderate one. Who cares what he says and to whom as long as his actions as Governor mirror that of any progressive Governor elsewhere?
The reason the mainstream media views Kasich as such a “find” for the GOP is that they know this also. Hence, we get the “Don’t Count Out Kasich” stories, or stories stating that he is a force to be reckoned with and a possible real tough candidate against Hillary. Unlike Scott Walker in Wisconsin or Rick Snyder in Michigan, he folded before the power of organized labor in Ohio like a house of cards in a gale wind. He never had the stomach or the heart for the fight ahead, only the rhetoric.
Perhaps that is part of the anger voters feel these days. If one wants to suppress that anger and tough it out for four to eight years of Hillary as President, then by all means support John Kasich. But, don’t expect any major governmental reforms, no reigning in the EPA, no repeal and replacement of Obamacare, etc. As a conservative and as a Republican, I fail to see the allure. I see someone willing to say anything to get something. We know the country cannot afford 4-8 years of Hillary Clinton. Can we really afford 4-8 years of Kasich?