If he did run, he might fill the slot some Republicans are looking for — a governor with foreign policy experience who has appeal outside the base. Right now, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Florida governor Jeb Bush and former Texas governor Rick Perry are trying to fill that space, but if one or more falters there could be an opening for Kasich, who recently told the media that you can’t be “extreme” and win the state. “I meant it politically, ideologically,” he says. “We are a state that is a microcosm. But, by and large, the public . . . wants you to solve problems.”
As for foreign policy, Kasich notes he was on the House Armed Services Committee for all of his 18 years in the House. He was enthusiastic about Netanyahu’s speech. “You can’t separate this U.S.-Israel relationship.” He said it was “just fine” for the Israeli prime minister to come. “He is really good at laying out the case. Number one, it was really good that he praised the president at the beginning. He also said if they [the Iranians] want to change then we’ll invite them into the community of nations.” Kasich isn’t commenting on other presidential candidates, but he did tell me, “Foreign policy is not only about instinct. It plays a role, but it’s not enough. You have to have some legitimate experience.”
Kasich is getting plaudits for his tax reform and fiscal discipline that allowed him to add to the state surplus. But he’s gotten more attention for his tone and policies aimed at the poor. “I want you to feel you are part of us,” he says of lower income Ohio residents. “If you are drug addicted, we want to help.” He talked in his well-received inaugural speech about values like self-discipline, kindness and empathy. “These are embraced across the board. There is so much more that can unite us.” And when he talks about what he wants to accomplish, he includes a “permanent understanding we don’t ignore people who live in the shadows. It’s a culture where no one gets left behind.”
Part of his solution is economic growth and modernization. “We’re trying to diversify Ohio’s economy so it’s not just [about] heavy industry. The challenge for Ohio is that it is not going to keep our young people if there are not jobs here they want.” That means trying to attract high-tech and setting out to “reset Ohio for a 21st century economy.” That entails tax reform, state finances, higher ed reform and fixing the K-12 education model. He sounds passionate about education and breaking away from an “agrarian model” where all students sit in the same class getting the same instruction. “I don’t think it’s a single answer,” he says about the key to reform. He reels off a list of initiatives — innovation grants for schools and personalizing each child’s education to focus on each child’s “God given talents” while not neglecting basics. He says testing is part of it, but we shouldn’t test kids to death. “We’ve reduced testing by 18 percent,” he says.
On the higher education level, he is putting together a task force to find the “cost drivers” of tuition increases. He exclaims: “And the college presidents are in favor of it!” He wants to expand credentialing options. If you work at Wal-Mart, he says, but want to get into insurance there would be a way to access a course online and/or find a job. “We want to help you get unstuck,” he says.
Kasich’s proactive approach to government, unsurprisingly, is not popular with some Republicans on the far right or in libertarian corners of the party. He got grief for expanding Medicaid and standing up for Common Core. (“The Common Core was written by state education superintendents and local principals. In my state of Ohio, we want higher standards for our children,” Kasich told a Fox News audience recently. “I’ve asked the Republican governors who have complained about this to tell me where I’m wrong, And guess what? Silence.”) Nevertheless, if the GOP is looking for a budget hawk, a candidate who can reach beyond rich, white voters and one with some foreign policy experience and a creative domestic agenda, they might work their way around to Kasich. And if not the candidates who do run should pay attention to what he has done and how he did it.