The Republican who could actually be president

First published Sept. 5, 2016

Billionaire David Koch, who bankrolls far-right candidates and causes, got a standing ovation in Columbus, Ohio, last month during Americans for Prosperity’s two-day tea party summit.

Jeb Bush was there, along with other Republican presidential hopefuls, Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Rick Perry of Texas, and Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas. All wanted to prove their conservative credentials by railing against the Affordable Care Act and, except for Bush, Common Core education standards.

Noticeably absent was Ohio Gov. John Kasich, whose office is less than a mile from the convention center. Kasich wasn’t invited because he isn’t one of them. Their mindset was reflected in the words of an activist who was heard to grumble, “If they’re a RINO, they may as well be on the other side.”

But it isn’t traditional conservatives like Kasich who are “Republicans in name only,” it’s the libertarian ideologues with their heads in the clouds and their hearts on ice who have strayed from the rich heritage of the party of Lincoln.

Kasich probably isn’t bothered by the snub. It will help him in the pivotal state of Ohio, where he won 86 of 88 counties in his last election.

Of the 27 or so candidates seeking the GOP nomination so far, Kasich is the one who could garner enough support from independents, centrist Democrats and moderate Republicans to win the White House.

The tougher challenge will be convincing voters in the primaries and caucuses that he’s their best hope, because the party activists and talk radio types who play an outsized role early in the process will try to persuade them to nominate somebody like Perry or Cruz, who will then lose swing voters in the general election.

That’s because they can’t do the math.

Republicans control the House because of gerrymandering, and they have more Senate seats because there are more red than blue states. But, except for Texas, the red states don’t have as many voters. If you can’t win some blue states like California and New York, and more importantly, purple toss-up states like Ohio and Florida, then you can’t win the White House. It’s simple, but then the early nominating process has been taken over by simpletons.

Republicans used to win because they chose candidates who were principled pragmatists like Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan who could work in a bipartisan way to accomplish goals.

A few years after the Barry Goldwater catastrophe of 1964, the Republican Party made a comeback by moving back toward the middle, and dominated American politics for the next 40 years. But in five of the last six presidential races, they’ve lost the popular vote, and came close to losing it in 2004.

Moderate candidates like George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney pivoted to the right to prove they were “severely conservative” — which is what Jeb was doing in Columbus — then alienate many who would have been for them.

How many of us want a leader who is severe?

Does anyone really think the country is going to elect someone as extreme as Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Ben Carson?

Bloomberg reporter Margaret Carlson, in a recent column, outlined Kasich’s accomplishments as governor. In his two terms, Ohio has gone from 48th to eighth in job creation, income has grown by 9.8 percent and unemployment has fallen to 5.2. He inherited a nearly bankrupt state, which now has a budget surplus and higher debt rating. The poverty rate in Ohio has plummeted, thanks to a vibrant economy, the governor’s earned income tax credit and Medicaid expansion.

In Congress, Kasich was the House budget chairman when we had our last balanced federal budget. He understands defense and foreign affairs. He has more government experience than most of the other candidates combined.

Although he is a social conservative who is personally against abortion and gay marriage, he isn’t strident about it, and accepts the Supreme Court’s decisions as the law of the land.

He is also a devout Christian but doesn’t use religion as a cudgel, and his faith is the kinder, gentler sort. In the first debate, he said that of course he would love his children unconditionally if they were gay, and when a woman challenged him on increasing Medicaid eligibility, his response was, “I don’t know about you, lady, but when I get to the Pearly Gates, I’m going to have to answer for what I’ve done for the poor.” He won’t have to answer for what he’s done for David Koch and his kind.

Kasich is no plaster saint, and he knows it. He’s tough, sometimes ill-tempered and doesn’t suffer fools easily — which could make him the answer to Trump in this summer of our discontent and the strongest adversary for the Democratic candidate next November.

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