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john-kasichjpg-e1e5254a5927a5aeIn a better world, with a healthier American political culture, John Kasich would be a nominee for President. Only, he would not be the nominee of the Republican Party. He would be the nominee for the Democrats. The Ohio governor’s almost meteoric rise in early polling for the Republican nomination has surprised many, though not yours truly. It is rooted in two things: his status as a “no-nonsense, business-like” governor who has a number of paper achievements, and Donald Trump.

Kasich is well and truly the political inheritor of John McCain, that squishy moderate who for years maintained a relatively conservative reputation by being mean. It seems many Americans (not least in the press) identify conservatism with meanness, so, if one is blunt, dismissive, and calls people stupid a lot, the lamestream media will denote one “conservative.” This is not true only of the commander of the intensively mis-named “straight-talk express” as it drove off the cliff of presidential politics. For historical evidence one could look to Harry Truman, one of our most left-leaning, power-grabbing Presidents (he even proposed his own version of nationalized health insurance), who to this day is deemed a “moderate” because he dropped two atomic bombs and told people to go to Hell a lot.

Mr. Kasich governs significantly to the left of his own legislature. He supports the Obama Administration’s Common Core nationalized education standards, circumvented his own party to expand Medicaid eligibility to get more people on nationally subsidized health insurance, and raised taxes (though he also cut some). Mr. Kasich spends a lot of money on government programs, including classic nanny-state efforts to hector pregnant women about their smoking and eating habits. And he blew his chance to rein in public sector unions by overreaching, then failing to fight hard or smart enough to defeat a union-backed referendum.

This is not to say that Mr. Kasich has not done some good things. He has balanced budgets, privatized the Ohio economic development agency, and signed into law a number of pro-life provisions (e.g. cutting Planned Parenthood funding and requiring ultrasounds, though he refused to go further). But then there is immigration. Mr. Kasich likes it. Indeed, he likes it so much that he would provide a “path to citizenship” for those who choose to immigrate by breaking the law to do so.

Taken as a whole and in context, it would be wrong to take these positions as showing John Kasich to be some sort of raging Progressive. In terms of the contemporary political spectrum (whatever we may think of that spectrum’s relationship to more permanent truths and goods) Mr. Kasich clearly is some form of moderate. Compared with the socialist Bernie Sanders or Lady Hillary MacBeth Clinton, he seems a quite decent candidate to come from that side of the spectrum. Alas, Mr. Kasich belongs to the Republican Party. And, like most moderate Republicans, he spends an inordinate amount of time insulting and undermining those in his own party (conservatives) with whom he disagrees.

It is hardly new for moderate Republicans to concentrate more on destroying “the enemy on the right” than on passing needed legislation or combating the craziness from the left that increasingly dominates our lives (including, of course, federal nanny-state programs like Medicaid). One-time Governor Pete Wilson did such a good job of destroying his right flank that he turned California into what seems to be a permanent one-party state. Even a Democratic Governor’s massive failure and recall only brought a washed up actor (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to Sacramento, where he pretended to govern from a smoking tent (without working to repeal draconian anti-smoking laws for anyone else) and accomplished precisely nothing before handing power back to the Democrats. In California, the war really is over. Christians and conservatives have been banished to the foothills of the Sierras and the central valley’s farmland, where they must endure recurrent invasions of bureaucrats and eco-tourists openly hostile to their way of life.

In Ohio, Mr. Kasich has failed to work for his own party’s Senate candidate, passed over conservatives in favor of Progressives for high positions in the state party, used shady, semi-fraudulent tactics to stack state party committees with his own drones, refused to even read his own party’s platform, and told opponents of Medicare expansion that they are quite literally going to Hell. Mr. Kasich consistently fails to recognize that most basic of conservative truths: that caring for the poor and instituting massive government welfare programs are not only different, but pretty much mutually exclusive. Small wonder, then, that prominent among Mr. Kasich’s supporters are former high-ranking advisors to that political Hindenburg disaster that was the presidential campaign of John McCain.

Something “reasonable” Republicans like John Kasich and Jeb Bush refuse to recognize is that their contempt for their own base actually loses elections. The myth that social conservatives “have no place else to go” has been exploded many times, most recently during the Romney campaign, when conservatives “went” home and left “their” candidate to rot. Sadly, so long as the Wall Street wing of the Republican Party dominates through its monetary might, it will continue putting up such candidates, secure in the knowledge that even as bad an administration as the current one will keep the profits coming in to corporations by stamping out small business and entrepreneurship.

Sadly, the social conservative grass roots does itself no favors when it chooses to follow the winds—by which I mean, of course, the hot air emanating from Donald Trump. One thing clearly buoying Mr. Kasich’s standing is the conservative attention being misappropriated by that longtime liberal corporate welfare queen. It being early in the race and polling being primarily a means of gauging moods rather than thoughts or convictions, it is not all that surprising that Mr. Trump’s unthinking outbursts against illegal immigration garnered him vocal support at this early stage in the nomination process. That said, it is potentially tragic that the attention being showered on Mr. Trump—whose very existence seems to depend on the attention of the media—is coming at the expense of relatively conservative candidates.

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 23:  Donald Trump listens at the Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C Groundbreaking Ceremony at Old Post Office on July 23, 2014 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)

Whatever one thinks of Texas Governor Rick Perry (his performance last time out was hardly inspiring), he appears to be a major victim of the oxygen deprivation stemming from Mr. Trump’s bloviations. And, where Mr. Trump for years was open about his big-government liberalism and soon will be again, Mr. Perry has some genuine claim to being called a conservative—as do a number of other candidates (from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal). Attention is being diverted from the necessary work of gauging the qualities and convictions of such candidates in order to feed a fundamentally dishonest sideshow. Whether he stays in the race, runs as a third party candidate, or slinks back to prime time, Mr. Trump is damaging a process that might actually produce a genuinely conservative nominee, and with it the possibility of undoing some of the damage done by eight years of militant leftism. Conservatives at the grass roots need to stop reveling in bombast, even if it is bombast aimed at the arrogant mouthpieces of establishment liberalism, and return to a serious consideration of serious presidential candidates, including those, such as Mr. Kasich, whom they should reject.

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14 replies to this post
  1. Yeah, Kasich is more than a squishy moderate. He’s downright a Liberal in the way of a Rockafeller republican. He won’t bring up his Liberal views in a republican primary, but he has always been thought of as a Liberal.

  2. But the GOP’s more credible conservative candidates [Perry, Cruz, Jindal, and the anti-charismatic Walker] simply can’t win. And after the disaster of the inexperienced ideologue Barack Obama, neither should competence be undervalued: I wish he were more conservative on some issues, but Gov. Kasich is solidly pro-life [the author admits he cut Planned Parenthood funding]; he did cut taxes; Ohio’s Rust Belt economy improved; and he managed 26% of the black vote in his landslide re-election as governor: clearly a uniter, not a divider, with more than lip service in working for opportunity for all—just what this fractured and exhausted nation needs after Obama’s destructive messianic interlude.

    With a congressional and gubernatorial record unmatched by any candidate in recent memory, John Kasich is clearly the best man for the job.

    But I do heartily agree with Prof. Frohnen’s lede—if only John Kasich were a Democrat, and there was a time that he could’ve been! But those days of sanity are long gone now; the triumph of the McGovernites is complete. We can only hope to quarantine their success to within their own party.

  3. >>”Sadly, so long as the Wall Street wing of the Republican Party dominates through its monetary might, it will continue putting up such candidates, secure in the knowledge that even as bad an administration as the current one will keep the profits coming in to corporations by stamping out small business and entrepreneurship.”<<

    Oh, really… and which one of the "true conservatives" e.g. if not Kasich or Paul, is going to do something to counter the corporate control of government, since none of them are even mentioning that there is such a problem? Should all of the blame for the imploded economy be placed on laborers who want to move rocks for $50 per day or the existing Americans "too lazy" to take such jobs since we made a system at least compassionate enough to distribute overproduced food and housing? What about the trillion-dollar subsidy of the banking sector, I suppose they are not just gamblers with the Treasury, they are some hard-working Joes!

    • There is a “true conservative” who has and will continue to speak out against and fight to counter the corporate control of government. He has done more than mention it; he’s stood up to McConnell and the rest of the corrupt power brokers in D.C. numerous times. He’s fighting with integrity and courage and something we desperately need more of in Washington: a deep appreciation for, and understanding of and commitment to the Constitution and limited government. Why hasn’t anyone else mentioned Ted Cruz?

  4. “Mr. Trump is damaging a process that might actually produce a genuinely conservative nominee”

    I disagree. If Trump’s current popularity encourages the rest of the Republicans to grow spines and stop backing down in the face of relentless attacks from the left wing press, then he will have done a useful service. And if he can help demolish the Karl Rove wing of the GOP, then so much the better.

  5. The social conservatism of a Russell Kirk coupled with the economics say of Milton Freidman can offer a path to a humane society and culture. But I believe their lessons are honored only in small enclaves of a shrinking but still honorable minority, a latter day Remnant. May they last.

  6. Since when has being anti immigrant conservative? We are proudly an immigrant country, attracting the best and the brightest to the great benefit of our country. Our existing dysfunctional immigration laws need fixing, including a pathway to permanent residency for those already here.

  7. Bruce, the majority of the time I agree with you. And I cannot deny the facts about Kasich with Medicare, Common Core, Immigration, etc. But in the long run, I think he could be persuaded to a more conservative, limited government position that is nonetheless electable. Jindal (the most intelligent of the candidates), Perry (whom I have met and found to lack considerable depth), and Walker may have more conservative credentials, but as a number of other commentators below have mentioned – they cannot beat Hillary or even Biden. I don’t think Kasich is as conservative as you and I would like him to be, but no one would elect you and I anyway! I trust him to protect religious liberty, the unborn, a free market, and strong (but not as dangerous) of a national defense. Perhaps the reasonable, electable, right-of-center “republican” is the best we can do in a country that’s already lost its dang mind – let alone any sense of its core traditions and identity.

  8. Dr. Coats, Surely you can see the difference between being an “immigrant” country in that we were founded relatively recently by “immigrants” on the one hand, and importing millions of poor illiterates from marginal countries on the other. If you want to argue Ellis Island immigration, that’s fine, but its a far cry from what we have now. I know its cool in conservative circles these days to say America is an idea as much as a country. Well, maybe, but we’re mostly a country, and we grew organically like most countries do. We were settled by one primary racial and cultural group. That group went on to create the wealthiest, most powerful country in the world in just 200 years. The only immigration policy the US needs is a limited one that takes the cream of the crop in. There is no shame in putting our own country first; its natural. I don’t know where you live, but “those already here”, especially the tens of millions of illegals, are decidedly NOT the best and brightest. They are over-runing our jails and schools, and blighting our neighborhoods. We have the right to control our own borders and who comes in just as much as we do for our own house. Letting your own country be invaded by foreigners, and then affirming them with citizenship so they can control your country is insanity. Why not just get rid of our armed forces while we’re at it? Lastly, our refugee and asylum programs need to be fixed also, as many of our so-called “homegrown” terrorists arrive that way.

    • Yes, we need to rationalize and better control who we allow to immigrate. But rounding up and deporting those who have lived here illegally for many years would turn us into a police state I would not care to live in. I am sorry that you live in such a sorry neighborhood… Mine is much nicer, in part because of the services of hardworking immigrants (whether legal or illegal I wouldn’t know). In fact, deporting illegals would cripple our economy. We would do better to deport all those grandmothers and aunts here legally (but I don’t recommend such retroactive measures).

  9. Tom Van Dyke,

    We have been running “moderates” now for a while, because we’ve been told the conservative candidates can’t win. How has that worked out? Not very well as far as I can see. We might as well run and vote for a real conservative candidate and give the people a clear choice.

    • But once elected, the President (Senator, Representative) must represent the entire country filled with people with a range of views. He must act for all only when there is a broad consensus. This involves compromises. Reagan was good at that, which is why he was so successful. It is our jobs to help build a broad consensus that favors more limited government and protection of our individual freedoms (to worship as we chose, to marry as we chose, etc.)

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