Flatiron Hot! Pundit: John Kasich: Nice Guys Finish Last in Today’s GOP
- Eric Shapiro
- On November 12, 2015
Reported by Eric Shapiro and Edited by the Flatiron Hot! News Editorial Staff
Ohio Governor John Kasich has caught a lot of flak for his aggressive performance in Tuesday night’s Republican debate. To be sure, his presentation left much to be desired. He came across as grumpy, impatient and all too eager to interrupt his fellow candidates. But his manner does not account for the criticism he has received from right- wing media outlets. Rather, the reactionary reaction to the one moderate on the stage stemmed not from Kasich’s performance, but rather from his deviation from the dogma of the contemporary GOP.
Kasich, like Jeb Bush, is essentially a relic of the kind of pragmatic, compassionate conservatism that was in vogue during the Bush administration; he is a breed of Republican that the Tea Party has, in its revisionist history, cast as insufficiently conservative. Whereas Jeb Bush has made an attempt to adapt his policies and rhetoric to meet the litmus test of the right-wing populism embodied to varying degrees by candidates like Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and the reactionary legislators of the House Freedom caucus, Kasich has stayed true to the relatively moderate brand of conservatism that served the GOP well in the Bush years, but has since fallen out of favor. In other words, although he is a staunch conservative, he has not entirely abandoned his capacity for reason.
The optics of ridiculing Trump’s plan to ship millions of undocumented immigrants out of the country and force Mexico, our neighbor and ally, to fund a gigantic wall to keep them out might have worked against Kasich. But there’s something to be said for telling the truth even when it is unpopular. Furthermore, his empathy for the families that would be ripped apart in Trump’s proposed mass deportation demonstrates that he is, in fact, capable of the kind of compassion that conspicuously eludes other candidates. Kasich demonstrated this same compassion when, despite his overall opposition to the Affordable Care Act, he made the politically-risky decision to expand Medicaid in Ohio, in the process providing millions of his constituents with health coverage for the first time. He claimed that his decision to expand Medicaid was rooted in his Christian values, providing a rare example of a conservative drawing on the teachings of Christ to help the poor and the sick rather than using it exclusively as a pretext to limit access to abortion and deprive the LGBTQ community of civil rights.
Even when Kasich, a formal Lehman Brothers employee, advocated bailing out too-big-to-fail banks, a position not likely to win support on either side of the political spectrum, his motives were not altogether selfish. While it is easy to channel populist outrage and call for the punishment of the financial institutions whose reckless behavior contributed to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, such impulses must be tempered by an understanding of how refusing to bail out big banks affects the broader economy. President Obama himself had to make tough choices when it came to using taxpayer dollars to save institutions that played an outsized role in causing the recession. That being said, Kasich’s defense of reckless financial institutions without calling for stricter regulatory measures to prevent such disasters from happening again, as well as a conspicuous absence of proposals to provide similar assistance to ordinary Americans buffeted by a crash that they did little to create, is damning, to say the least. He is certainly no progressive and his “compassionate conservatism” only goes so far. However, the fact that he was at least willing to recognize the economic peril of allowing financial institutions to fail that millions of Americans are tied to shows that, as a competent manager who appreciates the consequences of unfettered ideology, he possesses a certain degree of pragmatism that his fellow candidates lack.
Finally, Kasich’s rattling off of foreign policy priorities, while far from eloquent or inspiring, demonstrates an understanding of issues that front runners Donald Trump and Ben Carson reduce to shallow talking points. John Kasich, much like Jon Huntsman in the 2012 GOP presidential primary, is a savvy, eminently qualified candidate that is simply too good for the Republican Party as it exists today. Sure, he is not the most polished speaker, but he is certainly capable of speaking with clarity and eloquence when he is not forced to share the stage with a bunch of clowns who are more concerned with performance than substantive policy debate. Given what Kasich must endure in a primary process that at times seems more like a reality show than a serious process to select the Republican nominee for president of the United States, is it any wonder that he comes across as more than a little bit grumpy? The party he has proudly been a member of for the entirety of his political career has gone off the rails, considering his once-common outlook and political achievements as liabilities rather than assets. Meanwhile, Donald Trump, Ben Carson and, to a greater or lesser extent the other candidates who have elected to join the circus are unqualified to serve as president by any objective standards. It must be frustrating, to say the least.
None of this is to say, however, that Kasich would make a good president. His version of conservatism might not display quite the same disdain for the poor as his fellow candidates’, but he still subscribes to long-disproven supply side economic theories that have decimated many a red state and likely would have wreaked havoc on Ohio if not for, as Trump pointed out, a timely fracking boom. Speaking of which, Kasich is no more willing to tackle or even acknowledge the looming threat of climate change than any other anti-science Republican, all too willing to profit from dirty energy without regard for the devastating impact of CO2 emissions on the planet and all of its inhabitants.
Kasich is similarly reactionary on social issues, subscribing to the same homophobic and anti-choice dogmas as the other Republicans. And his relationship with Wall Street and support for deregulation of the financial sector, the very approach that resulted in the Great Recession, renders him unqualified to serve as president. Nevertheless, if America’s political system is ever to break free of the gridlock that has made advancing legislation all but impossible, we need relatively moderate, sensible Republicans like John Kasich on the other side of the aisle. It would be a shame for John Kasich’s implosion to discredit moderates from making their voices heard in a Republican Party that desperately needs moderate voices to counteract the right-wing populist nihilism of abominations like the Tea Party and the Freedom Caucus.
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