Mitt Romney’s crew is making noises about the Mittster running again, at least if Jeb Bush doesn’t run. Jeb is showing signs of maybe kinda yearning to be president, just like Dad and Big Brother, but only if he can avoid the humiliating gauntlet of Tea Party conservatives that is the GOP primary system.
I’m not aware that such a path exists.
Meanwhile, the handful of GOP presidential hopefuls in the Senate — Cruz, Paul, Rubio — continue to come across as petulant, insecure 15-year-olds unable to handle the sensation of testosterone flowing through their bodies. And most of the conservative governors who set right-wing hearts aflutter a few years ago, such as Scott Walker of Wisconsin, have overpromised and underperformed and are at serious risk of being unseated by their home-state voters.
But then you look at Ohio, a swing state that is crucial for any GOP plan to cobble together 270 electoral votes, and what do you see? You see Gov. John Kasich, a conservative Republican with leadership experience in Congress and on Wall Street, running for re-election and holding an impressive 18.8-percentage-point advantage in the polling average compiled by Real Clear Politics.
Why does Kasich, elected in 2010 by just a two-point margin, now enjoy such a huge margin in a state that voted twice for Barack Obama? And why doesn’t that success translate into making him a leading GOP contender?
It turns out that those two questions — “why?” and “why not?” — have essentially the same answer.
Last year, Kasich dared to propose a state budget that included the acceptance of Medicaid expansion in Ohio. When Republican legislators refused to go along and instead passed a budget that barred expansion of Medicare, Kasich struck the language via a line-item veto. He then arranged a bureaucratic end-run around the Ohio Legislature that would make John Boehner fall onto a fainting couch if attempted by President Obama, and the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the manuever by a 4-3 vote.
Voila! — some 275,000 additional Ohioans are now covered by Medicaid, and $2.5 billion in federal money is being spent in the state, boosting its economy.
Kasich has not been shy in explaining why he has taken such steps, arguing that we “should not allow this notion in our country — this growing notion particularly among those people who have — that those that do not have are somehow lesser.”
“As Americans, we need to beat back this notion that when somebody’s poor, somehow they are lazy,” he says.
He has even gone on Fox News to spread the gospel, telling Chris Wallace:
“See, my philosophy is this, Chris: as the state does better and gets stronger economically, we must help people who live in the shadows. The people who have drug addiction — we have to get them rehab. The people who have mental illness. Those two groups of people should not be sitting in our jails and in our prisons, that’s unconscionable in our state.”
“And so, it’s a two-prong strategy: continue to grow the state, continue to make it stronger and stronger economically, and help to lift people outta the ditch where they are, bring them into the mainstream, and give them an opportunity to realize their God-given purpose.”
When you’re standing at Heaven’s gate, Kasich is known to ask, what will be more important? “Whether you kept government small” or “what did you do for the poor”? I would dearly love to hear him deliver that line in a GOP presidential debate.
Just to be clear, if Kasich were to somehow become the GOP’s 2016 nominee, I’m not saying that I would vote for him. He still wants to ban gay marriage, he has slashed access to food stamps, cut taxes on the wealthy, raised sales taxes on the working and middle class and tried to restrict abortion rights in Ohio. We disagree on a lot of things.
But if I still thought of myself as Republican, I’d look at Kasich’s 19-point margin in a crucial swing state and wonder whether there’s something to his approach. The problem is, the reasons that the GOP is unlikely to embrace Kasich or anyone like him are exactly the reasons that they need to do so.