Governor John Kasich of Ohio declared his run for the presidency on Tuesday, becoming the 16th Republican to do so. A seasoned politician, he was the youngest person elected to the Ohio state Senate at 26, spent 18 years in the House, and was chairman of the House Budget Committee in the mid-’90s, where he was a key player in the bill that ultimately ended the government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996.
He’s a religious man who practices his faith with political actions, not just words, but it’s the mix of moderate and conservative positions that makes him something of an outlier from the gaggle of hard-right wingers on the campaign trail, and has led him to become a potential dark horse who could go far in this race. As he tries to make up lost ground and distinguish himself from the other candidates, here are five things worth remembering about John Kasich.
1. He’s got a symbiotic relationship with Fox News.
Fox News and the Republican Party are undeniably tied to each other. In fact, there’s an old argument that many GOPers running for president these days — some of whom have little real chance of winning the nomination — are just angling for a show on Fox News and an opportunity to make boatloads of money.
John Kasich already had his own Fox News show from 2001 to 2007, In the Heartland with John Kasich. He left the network to run for governor in 2009.
While there, he used his platform to talk about balancing the budget – his pet issue – setting the stage for his future candidacy. And Fox News repaid his services: Both anchors Megyn Kelly and Sean Hannity have promoted him as a candidate, whether as governor or president.
Hannity especially is a fan, hosting Kasich on his programs many times, conducting softball interviews and openly promoting his candidacy.
In one appearance on The O’Reilly Factor, Kasich asked for donations while the network flashed his website information onscreen, triggering a complaint that was later dismissed.
As Media Matters for America outlines, numerous Fox News employees, from Rupert Murdoch to Mike Huckabee, have contributed money to Kasich’s gubernatorial campaigns. (Huckabee is, of course, now also running for the Republican nomination.)
2. He’s got a temper.
He might appear to be a pretty mild-mannered guy – more Scott Walker than Chris Christie. But his temper has pushed away donors before and even other politicians have sent out warnings about Kasich’s occasional outbursts.
- He called a cop an idiot because the officer had the gall to pull him over for passing too close to an emergency vehicle.
- He told The Atlantic’s Molly Ball that neither he nor his wife read the magazine. Then he insulted Ball, saying that her job was “really a dumb thing to do,” later berating her for asking what he “considered a stupid question” in front of a meeting of cabinet officials.
- He has a history of being hostile to the media, too: He’s said he doesn’t read Ohio newspapers because they aren’t an “uplifting experience” and was said to be a complete jerk to both the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s editorial board and his gubernatorial opponent, Ed FitzGerald, last year in a meeting with both. Acting like a petulant child, he refused to acknowledge FitzGerald and answer the board’s questions.
Yet despite all that, those who point out his temper also mention how he’s a font of ideas and is always willing to do the work involved in governing. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who worked closely with Kasich while they were both in the House, told Politico, “He has intensity, urgency and passion issues. He doesn’t see public policy as some abstract intellectual thing, but rather as an emotional, right and wrong process that can help or hurt people.”
“He does have a tendency to ready-fire-aim,” said Mike Hartley, who has worked with Kasich both on his 2010 campaign for governor and in his administration. “But here’s the thing – he makes things happen. His will is tremendous, and he gets people to follow him. He’s an ass kicker.”
3. He’s one of the few Republican governors to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
To Kasich, expanding health care to vulnerable populations is a moral imperative and a cornerstone of his faith. He shrugged off criticism from other Republicans, saying simply that it was the right thing to do.
“A lot of government is improvement. It’s not slashing and burning. It’s making things work better at a lower price,” Kasich said, as reported by the Columbus Dispatch. “Our party needs more compassion. We need more empathy. Every once in a while, we’ve got to get people out of a ditch so they can live their God-given potential and they change the world.”
His compassionate conservatism has shaped a lot of his policies, from increasing spending on the mentally ill (his younger brother suffers from mental illness) to increasing tax breaks for low-income residents. But it’s his passion for expanding Medicaid that irks Republicans because he ties policies that are anathema to the party with a sense of Christianity-oriented social justice that Republicans are always trying to own. He famously said, “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.”
“I think there is among both parties – both parties – a growing antipathy towards poor people,” he told National Journal’s Michelle Cottle. “One party believes in investing in bureaucracy, and the other one kind of doesn’t get it sometimes.”
4. He’s a proponent of restricting collective bargaining rights.
In this respect he is like his fellow Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker, but while Walker may be winning this round in Wisconsin, the issue is politically dead in Ohio. One of Kasich’s biggest defeats was when a ballot initiative repealed a measure that would have prohibited public employees from striking and affected their ability to bargain on terms of employment, wages, and other issues.
Voters overwhelming vetoed it, so much so that Kasich had to adjust his strategy to be less focused on winning than on stemming the loss. Kasich conceded the defeat gracefully, saying that the voters had spoken. When asked to revisit the issue, he said that there was no reason to do so.
“If people in this state feel that you need right-to-work, I don’t think people even know what that is,” Kasich said. “So, if you’re interested in pushing that kind of legislation, you’ve got to explain to people what it’s all about.”
5. He was involved in Lehman Brothers directly before it filed for bankruptcy.
Kasich is touting his Wall Street experience, specifically as a Lehman Brothers managing director, as one reason why he’d make a good president.
Although he was there in the years leading up to the 2008 economic meltdown, Kasich wasn’t exactly at the center of the big deals that contributed to it. He worked in a two-man office in Columbus, the smallest office Lehman had, but only because Kasich wouldn’t move.
His boss at the time, Gary Weinstein, told Cleveland.com that Kasich threw himself into the job. “He took it really, really seriously. It was ‘I don’t know how to be a banker, but can I learn?’ And you can’t necessarily learn to be a banker in your 50s, but you can learn to be a part of meaningful team. John was that.”
It’s not uncommon for pols to cross over to the private sector and never look back, but Kasich’s decision to turn to investment banking seems to have been driven by an intention to build a war chest and return triumphantly to politics. He joined Lehman shortly after a failed run for president in 2000 – a loss he blamed on not having enough money.
Kasich made $1.4 million in 2008, though at his announcement speech Tuesday, he conceded he didn’t have as much money as some of his GOP opponents, but he had the “statistics.”
Photo: Marc Nozell via Flickr