Editorial: John Kasich, a Pragmatic Conservative

Sunday, January 24, 2016
New Hampshire primary voters who fear the consequences if this year’s Republican presidential race ends in a train wreck should strongly consider casting their ballots on Feb. 9 for Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Kasich’s experience and electability should appeal to Republicans who actually want to win this fall rather than just blow off steam. Once upon a time, in a Republican Party far away, this would not even need to be pointed out. But as the party has descended into an echo chamber of discontent in recent years, this most basic calculation of a candidate’s qualifications has been eclipsed by rhetorical excess.

As to experience, Kasich checks a lot of boxes: He is the two-term governor of a big, complex, purple state — executive experience that often serves as sound preparation for the presidency. During his time in office, Ohio’s big budget shortfall has turned into a surplus, taxes have been cut and job creation has surged. No doubt the improving national economy had something to do with that, but so did Kasich. He also has an extensive track record on the legislative side, having served nine terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and chaired the House Budget Committee. A long stint on Capitol Hill can only enhance a president’s ability to enact his or her agenda. Besides his background in politics, Kasich also has private sector experience in investment banking.

In overwhelmingly winning re-election as governor in 2014, Kasich demonstrated broad appeal across the voter spectrum in a swing state, winning 64 percent of the vote, including 57 percent of younger voters, 69 percent of independents and 60 percent of women.

Right-leaning voters need not fear that Kasich is squishy. He is solidly of the tax-cutting, budget-balancing, strong-defense, pro-gun, anti-abortion school of conservative thought. One of his central themes is that power should be drained from Washington and directed back to the states. Regular readers of this page will correctly surmise that much of the Kasich program is out of step with our thinking. But Kasich appears to be a pragmatist who leavens his fiscal and social conservatism with compassion and genuine concern for the trials and tribulations of ordinary folks. This perhaps stems from his working-class roots as the son of a mail carrier in blue-collar McKees Rocks, Pa., outside of Pittsburgh.

For instance, Kasich embraced the expansion of Medicaid offered under Obamacare, a stance that made 275,000 Ohioans eligible for health insurance and earned him the enmity of some fellow Republicans. When a major party donor objected at a gathering last year, Kasich stood his ground: “I don’t know about you, lady, but when I get to the Pearly Gates, I’m going to have an answer for what I’ve done for the poor.” He would consider a path to legal status for immigrants who are in the United States illegally. And he has often expressed concern for those he calls “people in the shadows” — the poor, the addicted, the mentally ill, those with developmental disabilities — saying, “The miracle of America doesn’t just apply to the few.”

Perhaps most appealing in this age of gridlock is the governor’s stated desire to reach out to Democrats in order to get things done. During a recent visit to the Valley News, he spoke frequently and persuasively about the friends in the other party he made while serving in Congress and emphasized the importance of a president being able to make personal connections with members of the opposition.

The Kasich resume and message may be gaining traction in the Granite State, as well they should, given New Hampshire’s reputation for political discernment. One recent poll (although not an especially reliable one) shows him in second place with 20 percent of the vote. He’s got two weeks to catch fire and win this thing. We hope he does. The alternatives on the Republican side are mostly unthinkable.