Kasich is smart and creative. As a congressman, he was instrumental in working with the Clinton administration to balance the national budget. As Ohio governor, he pushed through several innovative initiatives — most notably privatizing Ohio’s economic development agency.
Trouble was, as everyone realized, it always seemed important to Kasich to make sure everyone knew how smart and creative he was. He would say so himself. Despite his 2016 campaign of homey bromides coupled with biblical admonitions, “humble” and “self-effacing” were seldom adjectives associated with Kasich. But there he was on Monday, outdoors in a grassy expanse, projecting something of a Tom Sawyerish image as he exhorted Republicans to back presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in November.
Party-crossing speakers are something of recurring oddity at our conventions. People get very excited about them. Remember Democrat-turned-independent Joe Lieberman’s big push for his friend John McCain in 2008? But just as there was never a President McCain, I can’t imagine Kasich’s remarks Monday changing any minds here in this Trump-supporting section of Ohio, a state the Biden campaign badly wants to put into play.
Kasich first decided he was presidential material as early as 2000, but Republican voters and donors thought otherwise, lining up behind the familiar and connected George W. Bush. After two successful terms as governor, a stint as a weekend host on Fox News, and a lucrative position with the Lehman Brothers investment banking firm, Kasich believed America was finally ready for him. This time, though, the GOP electorate was in no mood for career politicians, opting for a rough-and-tumble maverick disrupter named Donald Trump.
Being bettered by Trump had to be particularly galling to someone like Kasich. Much like other Never Trumpers, Kasich had spent a career based on the mastery of policy and building the right connections. Being outshone by a buffoonish sideshow charlatan, as Trump’s critics see him, was cosmically unfair — especially to someone who considered himself the smartest guy in the room. So miffed was Kasich by Trump’s nomination as the party’s standard bearer that, despite still being governor, he refused to participate in the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Despite their obvious differences, Kasich and Trump have in common egos of gargantuan proportions, and there was only room for one of them in the Republican Party. And so Kasich showed up Monday, an older white Republican man addressing a party that often blames such creatures for all the world’s travails.
Kasich’s remarks on Monday were in keeping with the new “Jolly John” persona he developed during the 2016 campaign. In typical “look at me” fashion, he had to be different from all the other “Republicans for Biden” lined up at a convention that felt more like a telethon (I was waiting for someone to go to the tote board). There was Kasich, standing at what apparently was a literal crossroads, calling on us to “unite” as we “bridge our differences,” practically chuckling “aw, shucks” with every word.
“America is at a crossroads,” he began, before describing the high-stakes choice facing the country, as he sees it. “Division, dysfunction, irresponsibility and growing vitriol between our citizens,” on the one hand, and the “restored and rejuvenated America” we can experience under a President Joe Biden on the other.
Forty years ago, Ronald Reagan was the disrupter, and Kasich proudly stood by his side. My, how times — and John Kasich — have changed.
But God love him. When he finally dropped out of the presidential race four years ago after clinging desperately to the hope of ending up a consensus candidate at a brokered GOP convention, Kasich said, “As I suspend my campaign today, I have renewed faith, deeper faith, that the Lord will show me the way forward and fulfill the purpose of my life.”
Kasich’s life purpose is surely not being a prop on the opening night of the Democratic convention. His personal odyssey, presumably, continues.
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