Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Predicting Character: You're a Little Late to the Party Kasich

So here we go officially, getting the 16th name on the list so we can get our free-for-all Thunderdome battle royale.  Today Ohio Governor John Kasich announced his run for the Republican nomination for 2016.  Back to David Graham at the Atlantic who decided at some point this year to be a masochist and document the cheat sheet:

...In fact, Kasich might not make the stage, either—even though the first forum is being held in Ohio, the state where he’s governor. Despite a reputation for policy smarts, Kasich seems like a longshot, too moderate and technocratic for a Republican primary electorate, and possibly too peevish to handle voters and donors alike. But he’s a brainy candidate, his super PAC has raised a decent sum, and the fact that he hails from an important swing state will give him an outsize impact...

Another writer at the Atlantic, Molly Ball, goes into a little more detail, and points out how Kasich might actually stand out from the other 15 names in the field.  Because he's one who has not stuck to the orthodox Far Right script:

Kasich’s transgressions against conservative orthodoxy are many. He supports the Common Core educational standards, which the right loathes; he says he would consider allowing undocumented immigrants to become citizens; his state budgets have cut a lot of taxes, but raised others; and spending has increased on his watch. Conservatives’ primary complaint is that Kasich singlehandedly accepted the Obamacare-Medicaid expansion for his state, thus making him complicit in the most loathed policy of the loathed Democratic president.
But Kasich’s heresy is bigger than these specific ideological transgressions. It is tonal—he has golfed with Obama and generally declines to attack the president personally; he has justified his Medicaid decision on the basis of Christian compassion for the poor. And it is philosophical—Kasich is witheringly dismissive of the anti-government absolutists in his own party. “There's a sort of fantasy out there, or a myth, that we can just cut all the government and that'll give us our lower taxes,” he told me when I visited him in Ohio in February for a profile I was writing. “It doesn't work that way. You can't just get rid of all these programs and say, ‘People, just spontaneously do it!’”

Kasich still got two problems: 1) He's running in a primary for a political party that skews so far Right Wing with its voting base that there are not enough moderates inside the ranks to side with him, and 2) He's nowhere near - at the moment - making the cutoff line for the all-important first debate in August.

Calling Kasich a moderate might not be the right word to use: but compared to the rest of the field, his demonstrative faith in a functional bipartisan government - the fact he accepted dreaded Obamacare funds for Medicaid, that he's raised spending in Ohio during his tenure - puts him to the left of nearly every Republican leader out there.

Kasich is still at heart a Republican.  He's demonstrably pro-business in favor of mass deregulation, still favors tax cuts in general as policy, and tends towards social conservatism as a personal world-view.

He was also at Lehman Brothers during the build-up to the economic collapse of 2007-08, which doesn't exactly give him credit points for fiscal wisdom or smarts.

So who is Kasich?  In what respects should we identify his world-view and establish what Character traits he could employ as President?

The biography shows a son of regular middle-class parents from the Great Lakes region born of the Baby Boomer generation.  Interested in politics since college - he made the effort to meet with Nixon, something he openly prides in - he'd been involved in elected offices from the state level up to Congress.  From there he gets tabbed for House Budget Committee chair duties when the Republican gain control of the House in 1994.  From there (via the newspaper Columbus Dispatch):

...in 1994, new House Speaker Newt Gingrich tapped a 42-year-old fiscal hawk named John Kasich to lead the House Budget Committee.
He chose Kasich, Gingrich told The Dispatch, because he had “courage, intelligence, drive, ambition and a willingness to dream big...”
...He was the brash young lawmaker who managed to annoy virtually every interest group in Washington, on either side of the political spectrum. But he also forged a series of unlikely and sometimes startling alliances in his quest to get things done...
“...Just because party leadership was thinking one way didn’t mean John would follow blindly,” said Bruce Cuthbertson, a longtime Kasich aide who now is a GOP consultant. “But along with that independence was the idea of always trying to build coalitions, trying to find reasons to work with people rather than find reasons to work against them...”

His tenure as governor since 2010 gives us an idea how Kasich would perform as a national executive: slashing taxes but also keeping government functioning and serving the needs of the public.  Kasich's most notable moves on the national stage highlight the fights and follies of being a modern Republican: his first term focused on dismantling the power of unions in his state, which failed when a voter-driven referendum overrode his efforts; his second term focused on accepting Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, which the party base viewed as betrayal.

Oddly enough, Kasich's remained popular both terms.  Which means he plays well for Ohioans despite the rancor of the national political figures in his own party.

So how would I chart Kasich?

John Kasich - Governor, Ohio
Positives: Long-term elected official with more experience - legislative and executive - than every other candidate in both parties.  Won re-election handily in a toss-up state, one of the key large-population battleground states for 2016 that the Republicans desperately need to even have a chance at winning.  Unlike other governors during his tenure - Jindal, Christie, even Walker - has remained popular in his own state.  Is viewed as more fiscal conservative than anything else: while he's still pro-fetus he's openly pro-people on gay marriage, and argues a Christian faith - the reason he supports Medicaid for the poor - that avoids the demagoguery the social conservatives enable. Has a reputation for abrasiveness but somehow inspires personal loyalty where least expected.
Negatives: Is coming very late to the ongoing horse race, with far too many candidates ahead of him on the wait list.  Not exactly Mister Personality, has a reputation among his own colleagues for brusque and curt behavior.  While he's ambitious, has a blase attitude about campaigning for President.  His bipartisan focus may appeal to moderate and independent voters, but he has to survive getting through a primary system dominated by partisan voters who'll abhor such tactics.  Despite his tax-cut stances, is still hated by fiscals conservatives for increasing state spending (an honest question would be has Kasich been able to balance the state budgets on a consistent basis?). One of the few Republican figures to support Obamacare, for God's sake that's like a Democratic candidate openly supporting Dick Cheney's foreign policy positions.
Chances: Even with his name being floated for months, he hasn't broken into the Top 10 names on the polls.  It is likely he could see a boost now that he's official, but he's got to steal polling numbers from candidates viewed of the same cloth as himself, which aren't many (Jeb, Rubio, Walker, Graham).  His resume might impress but his own personality won't.
Character Chart: I keep coming back to how the Republican party itself leans so far over to Active-Negative behaviors - rigid Uncompromising attitudes above all - that every Republican candidate is pretty much going to fulfill that character.  Kasich is the only one so far making me re-think that position.  His case history, while conservative, highlights a political figure who acts as though government can be effective.  His willingness to buck national dogma over Obamacare points to a possible Adaptive trait.  Among the current Republican candidates, he's the closest any of them get to being an Active-Positive.

It's too bad he's got to go sell himself to a crowd of voters who want Active-Negatives demolishing everything about government just to tick everybody else off.  I doubt Kasich can win enough delegate votes to even justify showing up at the 2016 convention.

No comments: