In a large and varied Republican field, there may be no more confounding presidential candidate than John Kasich. In the 1990s, he was part of the conservative revolution on Capitol Hill. As Ohio governor, he has cut income taxes and government regulation, battled organized labor and approved new restrictions on abortion and voting rights. He also spared several inmates facing execution, supported higher taxes on cigarettes and fracking and horrified conservatives by expanding healthcare access under the Affordable Care Act, throwing in a lecture on what it means to be a good Christian.
“When you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he’s probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small,” Kasich said. “But he’s going to ask what you did for the poor. You better have a good answer.”
Speak for yourself, John. Jesus wasn’t talking about Big Government when he advocated for the poor.
His political unpredictability, late start and relatively meager fundraising make Kasich a distinct underdog in the GOP contest. He may not even qualify for the first presidential debate next month in Cleveland. But as the two-term governor prepares to formally launch his White House bid Tuesday, one of the largest questions surrounding his candidacy is a personal one: Is Kasich too abrasive to be elected president?
Stories abound of his gruff persona, of a prickly meeting with local reporters in New Hampshire, which holds the first primary; of lashing out at a wealthy GOP donor who questioned his embrace of Obamacare; of threatening lobbyists in Columbus, the state capital, if they obstructed his efforts. “If you’re not on the bus, we’ll run over you with the bus,” he told them two days after he was elected governor. “And I’m not kidding.”
Kasich’s willingness to break with conservatives, by, among other things, defending the federal education standards known as Common Core and backing a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally, ensure he will, at the least, stand out.
What it ensures is that he doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell. And, in any case, don’t we already have enough GOP pols “willing to break with conservatives,” starting with John McCain and Jeb Bush?