John Kasich, former House Republican wunderkind and current governor of Ohio, clearly wants to run for president in 2016. Just look at the contortions he’s put himself through this week, to conform with the party’s rightthink about Obamacare.
Tenet #1 in the Republican catechism is that ye shall never ever speak kindly in any way about the landmark health law that’s already aiding millions who never had coverage before. And if, perchance, a Republican does commit said blasphemy, he shall walketh it back with all deliberate speed, lest he risk kissing his White House aspirations goodbye.
Which brings us to Kasich, who has evinced such aspirations in the past and who’s on the cusp of being re-elected in what’s arguably our top swing state. This week, in order to keep himself viable for the right-leaning early ’16 primaries, he was compelled to win a gold medal in the verbal gymanistics competition.
On Monday, the Associated Press posted a story in which Kasich defended his ’13 decision to expand Medicaid coverage to hundreds of thousands of low-income Ohioans, an option offered by Obamacare. Like eight other GOP governors who’ve made similar decisions, Kasich has incurred the wrath of conservative ideologues who can spout off with impunity because they don’t have to govern. Kasich told AP that the opposition to Medicaid expansion “was really either political or ideological (but) I don’t think that holds water against real flesh and blood and real improvement’s in people’s lives.”
Politically, it was probably bad enough that Kasich said such nice things about a key Obamacare provision. But he also appeared to suggest that Obamacare itself is here to stay, that it won’t be repealed – “That’s not gonna happen,” he said – even if Republicans control both congressional chambers.
But any Republican who seeks the ’16 nomination shall hew at all times to the fantasy that Obamacare can and will be repealed. Never mind that Obama would veto any such attempt; never mind that the GOP would lack the required Senate votes to override a veto; never mind that, in the real world, any successful move to take away people’s health benefits would be politically disastrous. Doesn’t matter. Rhetorical rightthink comes first, and so Kasich scurried yesterday to walk back what he seemed to be saying.
He did so by declaring that “AP screwed up,” that what he meant to say was that the ’15 Congress would certainly work to repeal Obamacare, that of course he supports the repeal of Obamacare – but that Congress will never repeal Medicaid expansion. That’s what he says he meant to say. Besides, “I don’t really see expanding Medicaid as really connected to Obamacare.”
But AP rebuked Kasich yesterday: “The Associated Press stands by its reporting. We accurately quoted (him) as predicting that repeal won’t happen and that helping poor people gain health coverage is more powerful than political or ideological opposition.” And as for Kasich’s tweaked claim that a Republican Congress will (and should!) repeal Obamacare but will (and should!) keep Medicaid expansion, because the two aren’t “really connected,” that’s perhaps his most audacious gymnastic contortion.
Fact is, the Medicaid expansion option – health coverage for needy citizens who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level – exists only because of Obamacare. Medicaid expansion is inextricably part of the reform law, as the GOP’s repeal know full well, which is one more reason why they still dream of killing the law. Fact is, Medicaid expansion, as a stand-alone policy, is something that Republicans wouldn’t enact on their own in a million light years. Name a single instance when the congressional GOP fought for that idea.
So you can see Kasich’s political quandary. Like other ambitious GOP governors (including Chris Christie) who’ve signed off on Medicaid expansion, he’s caught between the high-road desire to govern responsibly by helping “flesh and blood” citizens, and the low-road necessity of pandering to the right. Ideologues are showhorses, governors are workhorses. As ex-Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt told AP, “In the Washington world, things are about control of the news cycle and preparing for the next election. Governors are more interested in finding a way (to) solve problems.”
It’s tough to travel both roads and talk in two directions – as Kasich just demonstrated. And rest assured that if he runs in the ’16 primaries, rivals on his right flank will insist that his affinity for Medicaid expansion is evidence of his love for Obamacare. In the cloistered world of rightthink, there’s scant tolerance for blasphemy.
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