John Kasich and the Road Less Taken Because It Goes Nowhere

Last month I spent a few minutes mocking a Cleveland Plain Dealer story that suggested big donors might hunt down Ohio Gov. John Kasich as he traipsed around the Mountain West plumping for a balanced budget constitutional amendment, and beg him to become the 2016 Republican presidential nominee. I half-thought the story was the product of somebody in Kashichland funnin’ a local reporter. I mean, really, a guy as seasoned as Kasich didn’t really think that was a viable strategy for becoming Leader of the Free World, did he?

But now we have a Wall Street Journal piece from the veteran national political reporter Janet Hook reporting the same madness:

If Ohio Gov. John Kasich is thinking of running for president, he’s taking a very circuitous route. Mr. Kasich, one of several Republican governors seen as potential candidates, is spending much of this week traveling through six sparsely populated Western states to promote balancing the budget.

Fresh off his inauguration to a second term as governor, Mr. Kasich is travelling from South Dakota to Wyoming to Idaho in a tour that ends Friday. He is trying to round up support for a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget — even as fiscal issues seem to be fading in Congress.

But then, after reporting that Kasich doesn’t admit this odd out-of-state travel schedule means he’s running for president, Hook cites it as one of several “paths to the presidency,” alongside those more conventional candidates are pursuing:

Mr. Kasich is part of a distinct posse of potential candidates — Republican governors that include Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and outgoing Texas Gov. Rick Perry — who are angling to use their states’ records as calling cards in a bid for national office.

Mr. Kasich is proud of Ohio’s economic turnaround, and of his 2014 re-election by more than 30 percentage points. He has been trying to espouse a new brand of compassionate conservatism, supporting an expansion of Medicaid in his first term and saying in his second inaugural address, “Somehow we have lost the beautiful sound of our neighbors’ voices. Moving beyond ourselves and trying to share in the experience of others helps us open our minds, allows us to grow as people.”

But he is pairing that big-hearted message with fiscal conservatism, his trademark issue during his 18 years in Congress when he played a lead role in crafting a 1997 deal to eliminate the federal budget deficit.

So Ohio Record (including the kryptonite-to-conservatives Medicaid expansion) plus Balanced Budget somehow equals viable candidacy. It’s not easy to understand how, mechanically, anyone would win the nomination this way, unless Hook is buying the idea big donors will track him down somewhere in the Rockies and beg him to run.

You know what I think? A lot of MSM types think Kasich ought to be the kind of candidate the Republicans nominate, and that fiscal hawkery–the only part of the Constitutional Conservative ideology they understand–could be his ticket to ride.

Beyond that, there are an awful lot of people who think the current presidential nominating process, and particularly the role of the early states, is absurd, and would love to see someone defy it. But it keeps not happening. The last two serious candidates who tried to skip the early states–Democrat Al Gore in 1988 and Rudy Giuliani in 2008 (well, he didn’t originally plan to skip the early states but shifted away from them when support was not forthcoming) went nowhere. Perhaps someone with a massive national following and special credibility with the conservative activists who view the early states as their God-given choke point on the GOP nomination could get away with starting late and elsewhere. But not John Kasich.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.