Many years ago—so many that I really don’t remember exactly when—National Review had a memorable cover. It showed U.S. Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi and Representative John Kasich of Ohio putting on a donkey suit. The cover carried the title of the lead article: “We are all Democrats now.” Guess who was donning the rear end of the suit? John Kasich, the answer to the question above, is now governor of Ohio and running for president of the United States.
Kasich likes to present himself as the adult in the room among Republican candidates, and, indeed, he didn’t shy away from saying so in one of the most recent debates as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio alternately ganged up on the current leader in the delegate count, Donald Trump.
It was quite a sight to see. Rubio complained legitimately about Trump’s use of foreign workers and his line of suits made overseas. Cruz underscored the New Yorker’s ignorance of the fundamental nature of our system of government, otherwise known as the constitution.
And Kasich? The govnernor of Ohio said nothing. Trump wasn’t even in the room.
I won’t deny it’s a pretty harsh criticism and, strictly speaking, not one hundred percent accurate. After all, it isn’t as if Kasich was entirely ignorant of Trump. I firmly believe he knew the great man was present, a body or two to his right. But the criticism isn’t unfair either. As Cruz and Rubio were, as old commercials used to say, doing their darnedest to expose Trump for what he is, John Kasich was waiting in the wings, gloves off, anticipating the right moment to dance into center ring and claim the crown.
Let’s keep in mind what was at stake. Donald Trump had, as of that day, won eleven state primaries or caucuses—and it’s gotten worse since then. During the campaign, Trump had defended the funding of Planned Parenthood, the chief provider of abortions in the country; advocated a single-payer, government-provided health care system even as he claimed opposition to Obamacare; proposed a wall on the Mexican border that became a partial wall that became again a full wall; planned the deporting of all illegal immigrants for the purpose of bringing the “good ones” back almost immediately; and argued for a tariff on China where his own failed line of suits had been made.
Regarding his public behavior, whether on the television debate stage or the hustings, he had displayed and continues to display a reckless lack of decorum suggesting the manners of a backstreet-alley thug.
But all of these deficiencies, which ought to have rendered him a hopeless failure at the ballot box, have meant nothing to the electorate who up to this day have awarded him just under thirty-five percent of the vote.
That’s another way of saying it’s time to get serious about Trump.
Yet in the debate in Detroit John Kasich, the self-proclaimed adult in the room, had little to say about The Donald, probably the most thorough demagogue since Huey Long. Predictably, the mainstream media loved Kasich for his reticence; to pick an example, the Washington Post praised his “uplifting and positive message.”
He was the Gentleman Jim in a room of Joe Palookas. No doubt Kasich loved WaPo’s glowing judgment. Who knows? He may have snored away that night with visions dancing in his head of victories in Michigan and Ohio, the “beachheads” he had assured voters would become a full-scale invasion leading to the nomination in Cleveland.
Alas, Michigan, the first wave of his Normandy, looked more like Dieppe, the failed 1943 attempt of allied combined forces to wrest Europe from the Nazis. Early in the evening Kasich boldly pranced upon the stage to celebrate his second-place finish, a declaration that lost some of its luster by not being first-place, and dulled a bit as the evening wore on when it became a third-place dud.
Hey, but there’s still Ohio where, according to Real Clear Politics, Kasich trails by a mere two percent. Not bad. Sadly, he’s last in Florida: nine percentage points behind Cruz, fifteen behind favorite son Rubio, and thirty-one behind Trump. Nationally, his numbers are not appreciably better.
It is possible that the Republicans don’t know what they’re missing. I have a friend fully convinced that Kasich is the incarnation of real conservatism, and, no mistake about it, that’s exactly what Kasich himself wants voters to think, excluding the Democrats whom he claims love him more than any other Republican. I won’t say he hasn’t been a good governor of Ohio; balancing the budget is no small feat. But, then, there’s his force-feeding of the ruinous Obamacare Medicaid expansion down the throats of Ohioans, which he gussied up as Christian charity.
If that Pyrrhic victory, running to billions in red ink, anticipates the kind of fiscal policy President Kasich would foist on the country at large, to borrow a phrase from Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener,” I think I’d rather not.
This election cycle has seen its share of certifiable shockers. Half the delegates are still up for grabs, yet Trump’s supporters are all but proclaiming his nomination. With that terrifying prospect before us, we could do worse—much, much worse—than John Kasich. But let’s be honest: we can also do much better.