IN A different election year, Ohio Gov. John Kasich would not be the moderate in the Republican presidential race. An instinctual tax-cutter who wears his religion on his sleeve and signed a bill defunding Planned Parenthood, Mr. Kasich is more Jack Kemp than Bob Dole. Yet it is a sign of how cracked the GOP has become that Mr. Kasich is the only Republican left in the race who acknowledges many of the principles essential to this country’s democracy.
In a Tuesday speech, Mr. Kasich counseled Republicans to “say ‘no’ to those who would prey on our human weakness.” He condemned politicians who paint a distorted “picture of America in economic and moral decline” and blame “people with more money — or less money, people with different-sounding last names, or different religious beliefs, or different-colored skin or lifestyles.” He criticized those who seem to promise “that unpopular laws shall be repealed simply through the will of a strongman in the White House,” and he specifically attacked proposals from rivals Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) to patrol and surveil Muslim neighborhoods. “We are not an ethnic group or religion or language,” Mr. Kasich concluded, but a union of “many different backgrounds and ideas and beliefs” under a political system that requires cooperation, not demonization.
On policy, Mr. Kasich proved that he is devoted to ideological conservatism — and that he can overpromise. He outlined a 100-day agenda that included the mutually exclusive promises of sizable tax cuts and a balanced budget, and he pledged to devolve power over highways, education and welfare to the states.
We disagree strongly with much of Mr. Kasich’s agenda. But Mr. Kasich does not inspire fear that he would attack crucial national institutions such as the free press, Congress, federal agencies and political parties, or that he would abuse the nation’s implicit trust that the president will execute laws with judgment and restraint.
Republicans often argue that President Obama’s executive actions have been a unique threat to the constitutional order. But a president truly untethered from a sense of responsibility could go much further. Imagine, for example, what Mr. Trump might do with the wide-ranging powers of the Justice Department if and when he felt personally aggrieved or stymied by the political system’s checks and balances. Mr. Cruz, meanwhile, proved how much he cares about judgment and restraint when he near-single-handedly shut down the government over a political dispute he could not win — and, on both principle and procedure, should not have won.
Mr. Kasich’s campaign has not taken off, and it appears unlikely that GOP delegates will swing into his camp at this summer’s Republican National Convention. He is prone to spiraling into tangents, and, like former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R), he is an imperfect exponent of reasonableness. But his message of patience, political pragmatism and inclusion is the only one that comes anywhere close to addressing the realities of American society. At some point, perhaps not in this election cycle, Republican voters will have to come to terms with it.