By Steve Brwner
© 2015 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.
The newest candidate to announce for president is among those I’d most want to see win. Which means he probably won’t.
The reason for both is that Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio, has a record of doing what I want the next president to do, but which the political system doesn’t reward a candidate for doing: work with others to balance the budget.
Kasich has done it twice, actually. In the late 1990s, he was the chairman of the House Budget Committee when, for all of the other nonsense that was occurring at the time, Congress and President Clinton actually sort of balanced the budget. For a brief time, the national debt wasn’t growing much, and Kasich is a big reason why. Kasich flirted with running for president in 1999 but dropped out and endorsed George W. Bush, who as president failed to keep the nation on a fiscally responsible path.
Kasich was out of office for a while but then returned to public life to run for governor of Ohio in 2010. At the time, Ohio was $8 billion in debt. Today, it has a $2 billion surplus and lower state taxes, though some say this was accomplished at the expense of local governments. In a purple state that can go either Republican or Democrat, Kasich was re-elected with 64 percent of the vote.
Kasich is hard to define and doesn’t always toe the party line, which means he’ll have a tough time winning the Republican nomination. He’s the only candidate who can say he had anything to do with balancing the federal budget, and he did it at the state level as well. But, to many Republicans’ chagrin, he accepted Medicaid money for Ohio – the same money Arkansas turned into the private option – and he talks openly about helping the poor being not just a national moral responsibility, but a personal, spiritual one. He’s changed his position on immigration – but unlike other Republican candidates who’ve also changed their positions, he’s moved toward endorsing a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. In interviews and public appearances, he openly calls himself a flawed human being. In other words, he’s the anti-Donald Trump. Who’s currently leading the Republican polls.
Kasich can be personally combative but also politically cooperative. In his 45-minute announcement speech this week, he never once mentioned Hillary Clinton or President Obama. Instead, he talked about his own biography, the family members who inspired him, and what he would do if he’s elected. So if you want a candidate who at least wants to debate the issues rather than sling mud, here’s your guy.
He’s starting near the bottom of the polls, from which it will be difficult to emerge. The Republicans’ first debate is in Ohio Aug. 6, and because so many (16) have announced, only the top 10 candidates in the national polls will be on stage. It’s probable that Kasich will not reach that plateau in time to qualify for that first debate in his home state.
But if Republicans want to win this next election, they’ll give him a look. Perhaps the most oft-quoted political fact each election cycle is this: No Republican has ever been elected president without winning Ohio. Kasich has won it statewide twice, the second overwhelmingly.
Why is Ohio so important to Republicans? First, it’s a big state with 18 electorate votes, each of which will be precious in an election when so many states are so reliably red or blue.
Second, Republicans who appeal to Ohioans also appeal to other Americans in the middle, like Pennsylvanians, Iowans and Wisconsinites. The state is a microcosm of America – red and blue, Midwestern and urban, home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and also the only state north of the Mason-Dixon Line with a college football national champion since 1997.
So far, the presidential campaign has offered a lot of what’s not so good about modern American politics – an avalanche of money, political family dynasties, candidates pandering to the base, and Trump’s celebrity-based candidacy. Kasich, as he himself admits, is a flawed man, but he offers three important and sometimes overlooked qualities – competence, sincerity and empathy – along with the chance for Republicans to win the states they must have.
That doesn’t necessarily mean he should be the next president. But surely, in this Republican field, he belongs in the top 10.
Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.