In her speech in Florida on Tuesday night, Hillary Clinton set out three principal tasks facing the next president. One was to “bring us all together.” Minutes later, after winning the presidential primary in Ohio, its governor, John Kasich, declared his commitment both in the campaign and in the presidency, were he elected, to “bring us all together.” No challenge, domestic or international, can be met unless the next president can restore our confidence in ourselves, in each other and in our leaders. So whether you are a Minnesota Republican or a Washington establishment Republican, whom do you think the voters in November would most likely trust to be able to do it?
The Washington Republicans responded immediately. President Obama nominated D.C. Circuit Court Chief Judge Merrick Garland to serve as associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Within minutes, Senate Republicans demonstrated that they are so committed to the kind of partisan politics that have served to anger so much of this country that they will trade a John Kasich for a Donald Trump or a Ted Cruz. They tell us to believe that it’s all Obama’s fault for not accepting the Republican version of the Constitution, which is something they call the “Biden Rule.” I lived “the facts” surrounding then-Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Biden’s statement, and I know that the current Republican Senate leader’s take on it is purely partisan politics.
What average Americans have come to believe about Washington politics is that when Republicans in the U.S. Senate agree as uniformly and as frequently as they have recently, they are only responding to a single-issue base, public opinion polls, campaign financiers, the 24/7/365 campaign or what every voter knows to be “the Washington establishment.” Which has nothing to do with traditional ideological conservatism.
In the past 20 years, the national Republican Party has used the electoral process and ready access to campaign financing from outside the state parties and state candidates to try to destroy government as they claim to have known it — without producing within their own ranks a roadmap for legislation or electoral policy change. This despite the fact that they have had control of one or both houses of Congress for half that time and eight years with a Republican president.
In the process, they have used national supermen and super PACs to turn state Republican parties and candidates into win-at-all-costs caricatures of representative government. What this does is to divide states like ours into what we now call “Greater Minnesota” and “metro Minnesota,” rather than the “one Minnesota” that Republicans in this state have always prided themselves in serving.
What does it take to bring us all together again? Most Americans know instinctively or by experience that a representative democracy like ours seems to work best in a crisis, as when we the people are threatened by war or terrorism or serious economic insecurity. Like right now. We’ve never chosen in times past to elect a dictator. But when those we elected to produce today aren’t even willing to work together, what choice do we have? I’ve made mine.
Former U.S. Rep. Martin Olav Sabo of Minnesota died this week. The man this newspaper referred to as a “giant” among legislators served for some time as the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee. The ranking Republican for some of that period was Kasich. Both were fiscal “hawks” who worked together to produce some of the first balanced federal budgets in ages, while making their own contributions to good national policy and policy reform. The same can be said for retired Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Penny, who served with Kasich as well.
I’ve known Kasich since he was elected to Congress in 1982 and have never ceased to admire his leadership potential and his character, which made him an effective advocate for change respected by both conservatives and liberals. As a Republican governor, it was clear he would have liked to make changes to what is called Obamacare. But to the extent that it benefited Ohioans to take advantage of expanded federal funding in Medicaid, he implemented the new law. The reason, as he has often said: “I believe we can shift the power and the money in Washington to where we live.” That works for me!
I am confident that were Kasich to be endorsed as the Republican candidate for president, he would win. He would change the Washington establishment, including his own party. John is above all a realist, but he is also confident that the right leadership can change Washington. His potential lies in his belief that the America people he has learned to respect and to serve will never underestimate their ability to change the world in which we have chosen to live.
There is much talk this week of a “brokered Republican convention” in Cleveland. But who are these brokers? Most likely the Washington Republican establishment that so far seems to have endorsed every other Republican candidate except Kasich. Now’s the time to ask them why.
Because they thought he couldn’t win? Because he wasn’t conservative enough? What’s that mean? That he worked with Democrats to do the right thing for our country? Certainly not because he wasn’t qualified or hadn’t produced what he promised or lacked an impeccable record of rising to leadership positions on the strength of his heart as well as his commitment to good public-policy reform.
Maybe to them John’s just too good to be true in today’s politics. In this campaign, he has promised repeatedly that he “will never take the low road to the highest office in the land.” If that’s not change we can believe in, I don’t know what is.
Dave Durenberger, a Republican, represented Minnesota in the U.S. Senate from 1978 to 1995.