In a better world, with a healthier American political culture, John Kasich would be a nominee for President. Only, he would not be the nominee of the Republican Party. He would be the nominee for the Democrats. The Ohio governor’s almost meteoric rise in early polling for the Republican nomination has surprised many, though not yours truly. It is rooted in two things: his status as a “no-nonsense, business-like” governor who has a number of paper achievements, and Donald Trump.
Kasich is well and truly the political inheritor of John McCain, that squishy moderate who for years maintained a relatively conservative reputation by being mean. It seems many Americans (not least in the press) identify conservatism with meanness, so, if one is blunt, dismissive, and calls people stupid a lot, the lamestream media will denote one “conservative.” This is not true only of the commander of the intensively mis-named “straight-talk express” as it drove off the cliff of presidential politics. For historical evidence one could look to Harry Truman, one of our most left-leaning, power-grabbing Presidents (he even proposed his own version of nationalized health insurance), who to this day is deemed a “moderate” because he dropped two atomic bombs and told people to go to Hell a lot.
Mr. Kasich governs significantly to the left of his own legislature. He supports the Obama Administration’s Common Core nationalized education standards, circumvented his own party to expand Medicaid eligibility to get more people on nationally subsidized health insurance, and raised taxes (though he also cut some). Mr. Kasich spends a lot of money on government programs, including classic nanny-state efforts to hector pregnant women about their smoking and eating habits. And he blew his chance to rein in public sector unions by overreaching, then failing to fight hard or smart enough to defeat a union-backed referendum.
This is not to say that Mr. Kasich has not done some good things. He has balanced budgets, privatized the Ohio economic development agency, and signed into law a number of pro-life provisions (e.g. cutting Planned Parenthood funding and requiring ultrasounds, though he refused to go further). But then there is immigration. Mr. Kasich likes it. Indeed, he likes it so much that he would provide a “path to citizenship” for those who choose to immigrate by breaking the law to do so.
Taken as a whole and in context, it would be wrong to take these positions as showing John Kasich to be some sort of raging Progressive. In terms of the contemporary political spectrum (whatever we may think of that spectrum’s relationship to more permanent truths and goods) Mr. Kasich clearly is some form of moderate. Compared with the socialist Bernie Sanders or Lady Hillary MacBeth Clinton, he seems a quite decent candidate to come from that side of the spectrum. Alas, Mr. Kasich belongs to the Republican Party. And, like most moderate Republicans, he spends an inordinate amount of time insulting and undermining those in his own party (conservatives) with whom he disagrees.
It is hardly new for moderate Republicans to concentrate more on destroying “the enemy on the right” than on passing needed legislation or combating the craziness from the left that increasingly dominates our lives (including, of course, federal nanny-state programs like Medicaid). One-time Governor Pete Wilson did such a good job of destroying his right flank that he turned California into what seems to be a permanent one-party state. Even a Democratic Governor’s massive failure and recall only brought a washed up actor (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to Sacramento, where he pretended to govern from a smoking tent (without working to repeal draconian anti-smoking laws for anyone else) and accomplished precisely nothing before handing power back to the Democrats. In California, the war really is over. Christians and conservatives have been banished to the foothills of the Sierras and the central valley’s farmland, where they must endure recurrent invasions of bureaucrats and eco-tourists openly hostile to their way of life.
In Ohio, Mr. Kasich has failed to work for his own party’s Senate candidate, passed over conservatives in favor of Progressives for high positions in the state party, used shady, semi-fraudulent tactics to stack state party committees with his own drones, refused to even read his own party’s platform, and told opponents of Medicare expansion that they are quite literally going to Hell. Mr. Kasich consistently fails to recognize that most basic of conservative truths: that caring for the poor and instituting massive government welfare programs are not only different, but pretty much mutually exclusive. Small wonder, then, that prominent among Mr. Kasich’s supporters are former high-ranking advisors to that political Hindenburg disaster that was the presidential campaign of John McCain.
Something “reasonable” Republicans like John Kasich and Jeb Bush refuse to recognize is that their contempt for their own base actually loses elections. The myth that social conservatives “have no place else to go” has been exploded many times, most recently during the Romney campaign, when conservatives “went” home and left “their” candidate to rot. Sadly, so long as the Wall Street wing of the Republican Party dominates through its monetary might, it will continue putting up such candidates, secure in the knowledge that even as bad an administration as the current one will keep the profits coming in to corporations by stamping out small business and entrepreneurship.
Sadly, the social conservative grass roots does itself no favors when it chooses to follow the winds—by which I mean, of course, the hot air emanating from Donald Trump. One thing clearly buoying Mr. Kasich’s standing is the conservative attention being misappropriated by that longtime liberal corporate welfare queen. It being early in the race and polling being primarily a means of gauging moods rather than thoughts or convictions, it is not all that surprising that Mr. Trump’s unthinking outbursts against illegal immigration garnered him vocal support at this early stage in the nomination process. That said, it is potentially tragic that the attention being showered on Mr. Trump—whose very existence seems to depend on the attention of the media—is coming at the expense of relatively conservative candidates.
Whatever one thinks of Texas Governor Rick Perry (his performance last time out was hardly inspiring), he appears to be a major victim of the oxygen deprivation stemming from Mr. Trump’s bloviations. And, where Mr. Trump for years was open about his big-government liberalism and soon will be again, Mr. Perry has some genuine claim to being called a conservative—as do a number of other candidates (from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal). Attention is being diverted from the necessary work of gauging the qualities and convictions of such candidates in order to feed a fundamentally dishonest sideshow. Whether he stays in the race, runs as a third party candidate, or slinks back to prime time, Mr. Trump is damaging a process that might actually produce a genuinely conservative nominee, and with it the possibility of undoing some of the damage done by eight years of militant leftism. Conservatives at the grass roots need to stop reveling in bombast, even if it is bombast aimed at the arrogant mouthpieces of establishment liberalism, and return to a serious consideration of serious presidential candidates, including those, such as Mr. Kasich, whom they should reject.
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