Ohio Gov. John Kasich is the Republican in the 2016 presidential field whom Democrats I know like the most. He evokes his Christian faith to explain his support for government spending. At the CNBC debate, he declared, “I care about poor people” — in a way that made you wonder if he thought he was the only R who could make that claim. Kasich even liked the CNBC debate. Leon Wolf, a blogger for the conservative website RedState, seized on Kasich’s remarks to declare him “far and away the candidate in this field who is just utterly clueless about the Republican electorate as a whole.”
Debates have not been good for Kasich. The more GOP voters hear him, the thinner are the ranks of those who support him. Kasich’s high mark in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls was about 5 percent. He’s now in ninth place at 2.2 percent. The Kasich campaign has staked his candidacy on scoring big in New Hampshire, where the RealClearPolitics average puts him in fifth place with 8.3 percent of the vote.
Kasich should be doing better, because he has impeccable conservative credentials. At the CNBC debate, he boasted he was “the chief architect of balancing the federal budget.” PolitiFact ruled he was not the only party responsible, but that he indeed was “one of the chief architects of the balanced federal budget.” In 1996, when Kasich was chairman of the House Budget Committee, Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed a budget that reduced domestic appropriations by 9 percent and cut discretionary spending by $53 billion over two years. A year later came the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.
When Kasich became Ohio governor in 2011, the state faced an $8 billion projected shortfall. That deficit is gone and has been replaced by a $2 billion rainy day fund.
As a GOP presidential nominee, he will need to win the Buckeye State. While Ohio voters preferred Barack Obama to John McCain in 2008 and to Mitt Romney in 2012, Kasich has done well in his battleground state. In 2010, he beat the Democratic incumbent governor, Ted Strickland, in a tight race. The vote was 49 percent to 47 percent. In 2014, Kasich won re-election with 64 percent of the vote.
Some conservatives won’t forgive Kasich for expanding Ohio Medicaid rolls under the Affordable Care Act. (For the first three years, Obamacare funds new enrollees at full freight; then, the federal contribution decreases to 90 percent.) Kasich told Fox News he expanded the rolls because it’s his job to “bring Ohio money back to Ohio.” His constituents pay federal taxes, so it makes no sense to send them to pay for health care in other states. That’s a strong answer.
Sometimes, however, Kasich strays from pragmatic to sanctimonious. He famously told one conservative critic, “When you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he’s probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor.” There have been respectable arguments on both sides of the Medicaid expansion issue. So my advice: When you’re running in the Republican primary, it’s best not to talk like Nancy Pelosi.
E-mail Debra J. Saunders at email@example.com. Her column is distributed by Creators Syndicate.