A difficult reelection race and the threat of losing his governorship have taken Gov. Scott Walker (R) out of the 2016 spotlight. A narrow win and certainly a loss would curtail talk of a presidential bid. By contrast, Ohio Gov. John Kasich is positioned to win reelection by double digits. If he wins going away in a state critical to a GOP presidential victory, interest will grow. In fact, the buzz about him already has picked up.
The Columbus Dispatch reports that Kasich already has a rationale for his race:
“I think we have as good a record as anybody in America,” Kasich told The Dispatch’s editorial board. He said JobsOhio, his privatized economic-development agency, is the “best development organization in the country,” last year’s transportation budget was the largest in state history, and the state’s prison system has one of the nation’s lowest rates of recidivism.
After listing numerous accomplishments, he said: “You think about this list, it’s pretty amazing. It’s pretty remarkable. … It’s an amazing range of things.”
Kasich made a brief run for the presidency in 2000 that never got off the ground. It sounds like he is dipping a toe in, but far from ready to make the plunge. Kasich is quoted as saying, “It’s a big, big commitment. It’s about the family … and the other thing is, I like the job I have. I like being governor. I think I can influence the national debate, perhaps, by what we do here. You know, I tried to run for president once. … It was really brutal.” Fourteen years later, however, he has executive experience, a solid record and higher name recognition.
On the positive side, he may attract Republicans looking for a candidate who can appeal to working- and middle-class Americans and who favors an ambitious reform agenda. Kasich touts his work on education reform, mental health and job creation while balancing the budget and shrinking state government. He is also a staunch social conservative with solid credentials in the pro-life community.
However, his expansion of Medicaid did not sit well with many conservatives. And he has been rapped for proposing a “round of tax increases; including higher taxes on tobacco products, e-cigarette/vapor products, higher oil and gas severance tax, and a hike in the Commercial Activity Tax (CAT). ” (Anti-tax groups nevertheless praised him for income-tax cuts.)
In short, he illustrates the difference between a fiscal conservative and a libertarian. In contrast to the sort of tea party candidates who wiped out in the Senate primaries, Kasich doesn’t see government as the enemy. As a governor he’s been expected to improve government, not dismantle it. At a time when reform conservatives are getting attention, he may be in keeping with the current Zeitgeist in the GOP.
A question mark remains on foreign policy. As the country and party focus increasingly on national security, GOP candidates will need to show proficiency in discussing issues and articulating a determined anti-Obama, anti-isolationist foreign policy. He gained some exposure to foreign policy in the House but was known more as a budget hawk who gleefully went after the Pentagon. (“In 1985, he left President Ronald Reagan’s Defense Secretary, Caspar W. Weinberger, sputtering at a House hearing by charging that the Pentagon budget was filled with bloat. Mr. Weinberger called that ‘a perversion of the truth,’ but Mr. Kasich had the last laugh: in 1992, he successfully ended a long campaign to kill financing for one of Mr. Weinberger’s first projects, the B-2 bomber.”) Nearly 30 years later with significant defense cuts already enacted and threats multiplying, it isn’t clear how he would look at defense spending or what his foreign policy philosophy would be.
If Kasich is interested in running for president, the first order of business may be to take a page from Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s playbook and start studying up, traveling and developing a national security vision that is appropriate to the times. He will need to get cracking if he wants to keep the buzz going and maintain the option of running for president. He will also need to convey the steady hand and gravitas Americans expect of a potential commander in chief.
Interest in Kasich reflects the lack of any defined frontrunner and widespread questions as to whether big names (Jeb Bush, Rep. Paul Ryan, Gov. Chris Christie) will actually run. If he starts visiting early primary states, wading into foreign policy issues and traveling, you’ll know he’s still got the presidential itch. If he does decide to run, he would be a serious candidate who will get the chance to show he is presidential material.