“You need to recognize people’s frustrations,” he tells me in a phone interview. “It’s easy for me. I grew up in a town where all we had was frustration.” Nevertheless, he insists, “At the end of the day they want you to land the plane. They don’t want you to crash. . . . It’s like a doctor. A doctor diagnoses you and tells you you’re sick. What if the doctor then turned and left the room?” He’s plainly having a ball out on the stump, sharing his enthusiasm with curious crowds. But he’s not your average, needy pol. “I’m free,” he begins cryptically. “If people like me, fine. If not, I’ll have a little cry and get on with it.”
Fortunately for him, he’s got a lot to talk about. On education, he recounts, “We unveiled a whole series of things and kept it up for 4 1/2 years” he says of his governorship. He stresses that it takes a long time to implement his ideas, pointing out that it took a whole year to implement early education. “The way we work is we talk about big ideas. Then we come back and refine them. Then we send people out. They come back,” he says. “We didn’t want to spend money on a system that was broken.” This is not a pol who, like President Obama, thinks his job is simply to make pronouncements. “I set the direction. A good CEO has a good COO and has a good staff.”
Switching gears to Iran, I ask him about the recent revelation that Iran itself will be able to inspect Parchin. “Listen, there is nothing that is going to emerge from this that is good. Letting the Iranians inspect themselves?!” he exclaims. “They [the administration] wanted a deal so badly they didn’t care what the deal looked like.” He does not know if this will be enough to sway Democrats. “I’ve been hoping Democrats are not going to get locked down on party,” he says, recalling he voted against sending Marines to Lebanon under President Reagan when most Republicans favored the move.
Kasich is banking that voters want someone who is experienced and knows how to fix government. He likes to remind crowds he’s served in state government, the federal government, the legislature and as governor. “You understand how people feel,” he says about what he’s learned in all those roles. “I know how a legislator feels who has a really good idea and nobody’s paying attention. . . . I understand how to turn the dials, and boy is that important.” He says any president has 90 to 120 days to move rapidly on an agenda. What would be his priorities? He rattles off a list: “Develop a plan to move to a balanced budget, and that includes entitlement reform. We need to let businesses [under the tax code] do full expensing and bring that money overseas back here. We need to reform the Pentagon as we put more money in. There’s too much bureaucracy, too much red tape.” He then adds, “And finally we’ve got to reignite a sense of citizenship, a sense that we are all responsible for our neighbor. A president can set a tone.” And he contends a leader can highlight examples, noting that he just called a state trooper who saved a driver’s life.
Kasich eschews soundbites and practiced one-liners for the most part. He’s passionate about not just running for president but also the prospect of being president. That would certainly be a change from the current Oval Office inhabitant, who excelled at campaigning and had no patience for the nitty-gritty of wheeling and dealing and no talent for empathizing with lawmakers. Once voters have had enough of Donald Trump’s angry-man routine, Kasich is banking they will look for someone electable and competent, and, in essence, who feels their pain. It worked against an older, conventional pol in 1992 for Bill Clinton (another wonk who loved to talk and loved to backslap). Maybe it can work for Kasich.