The two big winners in the Republican presidential derby after the November 4th elections were Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Governor John Kasich of Ohio.
It’s easy to make predictions when they don’t have any consequences, and won’t be recalled if they turn out completely wrong, so here goes:
If I had to make an academic prediction today, I’d say Scott Walker will be the R’s standard bearer in 2016. But John Kasich right now is a much better Las Vegas bet. He has longer odds than Walker (or any R candidate showing up in the Real Clear Politics polls), but also a huge (under-appreciated) upside. It’s all about seeking out the undervalued stocks.
If you prefer betting “win and place,” Kasich is an even better bet for one of the two spots on the R’s ticket in 2016. If R’s nominate a hard right winger for the top spot, what’s better for them than a more moderate, charismatic Ohioan for veep?
After taming the public sector Unions in Wisconsin and beating back a “ground zero” recall election, Walker has stayed the course as a darling of the Republican base. He won a big victory this November in a blue state and has been careful not to harm his own Keystone Pipeline from Koch Industries to Madison. Kasich, on the other hand, after his resounding re-election in a purple swing state, hasn’t tried at all to hide his tilt to the center, which clinched his big win in Ohio.
Kasich’s brand of moderation was almost garishly on display at the recent Republican Governor’s Association (RGA) forum, featuring Kasich, along with Governors Walker, Spence, Perry, and Jindal. Only at a Republican gathering can something be both moderate and garish at the same time.
The RGA event, hosted by Meet the Press’ Chuck Todd, had the feel of a Republican primary debate. But it received very little coverage. Kasich stood out, positioning himself as a bridge builder (both metaphorically and in his maverick support for replenishing the Highway Trust Fund). It’s a big story, buried for now. But it won’t be for long, if Kasich repeats this act more often and at better venues.
If you watch the RGA forum, it’s clear that Kasich tried to put daylight between himself and the other Governors. He was already physically separated on the stage, ironically at the far right, but then kept turning sideways and leaning backward, placing him still further away from his brothers, and at a distinctly different angle. Check out: Kasich at RGA on C-span, and his comments on bi-partisan unity, amnesty, common core, and obamacare
Kasich has been amazingly invisible in the Republican polls. Yet he was a Tea Partier long before there was a Tea Party, and a Ryan-esque conservative budget guru long before anyone heard of Paul Ryan.
In the 1990s Kasich was a young star and first lieutenant in the Newt Gingrich revolution, chairing the House Budget Committee. Kasich was the real thing as budget sage, not just a master of buzz words, like Mr. Ryan. (Ryan causes Republican audiences to swoon when he refers to the “budget base” or says things like “carry forward” and “bow wave”).
If the Ohio Governor can convince a few powerful conservative king makers (with shekels) that his new brand of moderation (which went over real big in the beast of all swing states, Ohio), can do well with swing voters, Latinos, and disillusioned Obama supporters, while being tolerated by the Party’s base, he has a great chance. Yes, I know, that’s a big IF. Kasich has some of the same inconvenient attributes for an R primary as Christie, but Kasich is a mid western good ole’ boy out of a Norman Rockwell painting, and he’s not obnoxious.
The resume seems perfect: Budget Czar of the first Republican Revolution, resoundingly popular Governor in the king of swing states, a solid record of spending and tax cuts and real regulatory reform in Ohio, joined with good economic results there (whether or not that had anything to do with the policy reforms).
But here is the rub: At the RGA forum, and elsewhere, he’s taken nuanced positions on
Obama Immigration Policy, Common Core Education Standards, and Obamacare’s Medicaid Expansion. Even a hint of any one of those is usually enough to doom a Republican’s presidential aspirations.
But if R’s want a real chance to win, the king-making donors might be persuaded that a smart, authentic, humorous, popular Ohio Governor beats the bland (Walker) guy from Wisconsin, Florida’s Bush, who is further to the left on immigration and common core, the fringy and goofy retreads from 2008 and 2012, and the flip flopper in chief (the “severe conservative”) who the R’s nominated in 2012, then Kasich is a really interesting bet. Think about it, if you happen to be visiting Las Vegas over the holidays.