Why doesn’t John Kasich get any love?

    Republican presidential candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks during a campaign event at the La Salle Institute on Monday

    Republican presidential candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks during a campaign event at the La Salle Institute on Monday

    With so many Republicans freaking about a Trump nomination, recoiling from the prospect of a Cruz nomination, pining for a miracle Paul Ryan nomination, or dreaming of a Ronald Reagan resurrection, I’m compelled to pose the question that hovers in plain sight:

    Um, hello? What about John Kasich? Why isn’t he getting any love?

    The reasons say more about The Base than about Kasich.

    On paper, this guy seems like the obvious antidote to the Republicans’ ills. He has conservative creds dating back to the Newt Gingrich apogee of 1995, back when he was balancing budgets as a House chairman. In his current gig as governor of Ohio, he has signed 17 anti-abortion bills and gone to war with Planned Parenthood — that alone should send tingles down right-wingers’ legs — yet he also has centrist clout. He has cut taxes and added jobs. He has a statewide favorability rating of 70 percent, won re-election with 64 percent of the vote, and it just so happens that Ohio is ground zero on the electoral map. No Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio. You can look it up.

    Speaking of winning, Kasich easily and consistently outpaces his rivals in the matchups with Hillary Clinton — as evidenced anew by this national survey. Clearly, there’s a general election market for a Republican who eschews the low road; as Kasich said in a New York speech yesterday, Republicans need to renounce “the path that exploits anger, encourages resentment, turns fear into hatred and divides people …. That could drive America down into a ditch, not make us great again.”

    One would think that the electability stats alone would prompt Republican primary voters to give him a serious look. But no.

    Kasich hasn’t won a single delegate since March 15, his sole win is his home state, and even though the race is currently shifting to seemingly friendly turf — northeastern states like New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, where center-right Republicans abound — he’s likely to suffer fresh humiliations. Heck, at this point even Marco Rubio has more delegates than Kasich, and Rubio pulled the plug a month ago.

    Part of the problem is that a lot of Republican grassrooters don’t know who Kasich is — or even how to pronounce his name (it rhymes with LASIK, the eye surgery). And whenever he stresses his experience in government, he turns them off — because, after all, the last thing The Base wants is someone who has actual experience governing anything. Better to throw in with Ted Cruz, whose sole Senate achievement was halting governance for a solid month, in his pathetic bid to erase Obamacare.

    Plus, there’s the so-called “temperment” factor. The word is out that Kasich, despite all the hugs he dispenses on the trail, is really an irascible guy who typically hits Defcon 1 on the anger scale. A former Republican staffer on the ’90s House Appropriations Committee recently told the press, “When he got upset he’d really blow up.” Kasich still gets mad sometimes; in Ohio, he had to apologize after he called a cop “an idiot.” (The cop had given him a traffic citation.)

    But this knock against Kasich is silly. Bill Clinton blew up at people. Lyndon Johnson blew up at people. John McCain was dogged by “temperament” stories in ’00 and ’08, but still won the ’08 nomination. The notion that some political leaders are high stress is as shocking as the news that some dogs bark a lot.

    No, the biggest reason why Kasich gets no love, why he appears to be an afterthought for Republicans gaming out a contested convention, is because he fails to check all The Base’s boxes. Kasich has planted at least a few toes in the American mainstream, and that’s deemed to be unacceptable.

    On Monday night, for instance, Kasich said that he would not have signed North Carolina’s anti-gay bigot law: “What the hell are we doing in this country? I mean, look, I may not appreciate a certain lifestyle or even approve of it, but it doesn’t mean I’ve got to go write a law and try to figure out how to have another wedge issue.” Well. You can’t voice that kind of sanity and hope to attract the Republicans who are vexed by the nonexistent scourge of transgender people preying on innocents.

    Most notoriously, in Ohio, Kasich expanded Medicaid under Obamacare — a serious no-no, because The Base’s First Commandment is that thou shalt not ever do anything to aid and abet health care for the underprivileged. Worse yet, Kasich had the temerity to speak up for Those People. He told the Republican Ohio House speaker: “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. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor. Better have a good answer.”

    That quote has turned off a lot of conservatives; they’ve dismissed Kasich as moralizing and sanctimonious. But that’s only because Kasich played the God card for the wrong purpose. The Base doesn’t get upset when Ted Cruz invokes the heavens — “To God be the glory” and “any president who doesn’t begin every day on his knees isn’t fit to be commander-in-chief” — as moral justification for his proposed surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods and religious tests for immigrants.

    But hey, this is today’s Republican party. It’s seemingly fixated “on exploiting Americans instead of lifting them up,” on embracing a tonal strategy that “inevitably leads to divisions, paranoia, isolation, and promises that can never, ever be fulfilled.” So said Kasich yesterday, in his New York speech. He might as well be yelling into the wind.

    “What, are we going to pick someone who can’t win?” he mused on Sunday. “I mean, that would be nuts.” He said it, not me.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.




    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal