WASHINGTON, April 23, 2015 – While the Democrats appear to have already decided on their 2016 presidential candidate, the Republicans find themselves with plenty of choices. The list of GOP contenders is a long one; it is believed that as many as 20 Republicans could have serious political aspirations. Some high-profile hopefuls like senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul have already jumped into the race while other notable names like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker are expected to announce their intentions shortly. With all the attention that has been focused on these better-known candidates, it is very possible that the person with the most compelling track record has managed to fly under the radar.
Meet John Kasich, not exactly a household name, but a name that carries a long list of significant accomplishments. The Republican governor from Ohio has managed his way through a four-year stint in Columbus that makes him extremely qualified for the Oval Office from a legislative standpoint. Last week Kasich hinted that he was interested in running and has already begun to make the rounds at events in states like New Hampshire and South Carolina. There are many qualities that voters will be looking for when they pick a new president in November 2016, but perhaps the number one attribute voters will be seeking is leadership, and, agree with him or not, that is a quality John Kasich carries in spades.
Kasich was elected governor of Ohio in January 2011, and he inherited a complete mess. The state budget was in the hole to the tune of $8 billion. It is now enjoying a $2 billion surplus. Ohio had lost 350,000 private sector jobs during the term of Kasich’s Democrat predecessor, and Kasich has gained them all back. The unemployment rate was 8.9 percent when Kasich took office and it’s at 5.1 percent today. By every economic indicator, Ohio has undergone a complete turnaround under Kasich’s control. Gov. Kasich orchestrated this comeback by implementing conservative principles such as cutting taxes (he completely eliminated the estate tax), encouraging privatization and targeting waste.
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There is much more to Kasich than his time as governor. In fact, what he accomplished before his time in the state house is arguably just as impressive. At age 26, Kasich became the youngest person ever elected to Ohio’s state senate by defeating a long-time incumbent without the help of any structured organization. Four years later, Kasich was a member of Congress, and during his 18 years there he helped guide one of the most influential Republican majorities in history.
In 1995, Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich, gained control of Congress for the first time in 40 years. Kasich was deeply involved in the rise of conservatism that resulted from President Clinton’s rocky first term. Kasich was instrumental in crafting a federal budget deal with Democrats that created the surpluses that existed when Clinton left office. This deal led to cuts in almost every aspect of the federal budget. While not perfect, the balancing of the federal budget embodies the bi-partisan nature of John Kasich and highlights his prowess as a fiscal hawk. Keeping true to his record of never being afraid to criticize fellow Republicans, Kasich is the first to admit that Republicans squandered the surplus that they had fought so hard to get.
Kasich’s main problem appears to be the same obstacle facing many GOP candidates who have been labeled as “moderates,” and that is the ability to appeal to hard-line conservatives. Many Republicans feel that one vote here or one position there is grounds for immediate dismissal. While this tactic will certainly be attempted, it likely won’t resonate. There is no denying that the architect of the last balanced budget in Washington and the catalyst for one of the most significant state-wide economic turnarounds in the last few decades is fiscally conservative enough.
What is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of a potential Kasich presidency is that many of the moves he has made that have angered conservatives actually serve as a testament to the fact that the Ohio governor is his own man. Despite being a vocal critic of Obamacare as a whole, he accepted the legislation’s expansion of Medicaid in Ohio, arguing that it would be unwise to let the federal government keep and likely waste money that could help people in Ohio. He got hammered for it among conservatives but he stood firm, believing that the money was doing good things, like help those who could not help themselves.
There are those who will call John Kasich a “RINO” (Republican in name only) because of his Obamacare decision or the unflattering things the NRA said about him 20 years ago, but Kasich, unlike most politicians, doesn’t care about what the political pundits call him. Every controversial position he has taken, he has not only stood by, but articulately defended. Of course there are positions he has taken and will take in the future that alienate some on the right; don’t forget that Ohio is a very divided state with a fierce liberal base.
One of Kasich’s first actions as governor of Ohio was to push through a bill similar to Scott Walker’s right-to- work bill in Wisconsin, which took power away from unions. The bill was eventually overturned by the voters. Kasich took a practical approach and recognized that the voters had made their voices heard, and he is currently figuring out other means to accomplish his goals of taking away union power. He didn’t take a page out of President Obama’s book and throw his hands up to complain about the difficulty of passing bills. Kasich instead got right back to work trying to figure out an new solution.
That’s the kind of leader Kasich is. He doesn’t demagogue, he admits when he’s wrong and he certainly doesn’t make decisions based on “toeing the party line.” It appeals to some people and not others. The people of Ohio, a state which no Republican who has become president in American history has ever lost, seem to like Kasich’s approach. He won his recent re-election campaign for governor by 30 points. He won 86 of 88 counties, including Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County, which Obama won by 40 ponts in 2012. It’s also interesting to note he handily won the female vote as a pro-life Republican.
Kasich doesn’t just talk about the conservative glory days; unlike any other candidate running for president as a Republican, he was there. Ronald Reagan wasn’t someone he read about; Kasich served in Congress during his administration. The Republican takeover of Congress in the ’90s wasn’t a model he studied; it was a reality he lived.
Kasich also faces an issue that plagued him in the year 2000 when he flirted with running for president. He quickly found himself out-fundraised by several candidates, including George W. Bush, as he positioned himself as the compassionate conservative in the race. Today, he faces the prospect of losing out on the same pockets of money to another Bush, who is painting himself as the conservative in the race most likely to attract Democrats and Independents.
John Kasich is no Barry Goldwater, and to many conservatives that’s a deal-breaker. However, for those who believe that a pragmatic, intelligent, proven fiscal conservative who is willing to find common ground with the other side without compromising principles has the best shot at the White House, John Kasich might be exactly what they are looking for. No conservative in the race has a track record of success as long and detailed as John Kasich’s. With no executive experience and no real accomplishments in Washington, Hillary Clinton could really struggle putting her record up against Kasich’s.