If Kasich Had Some Ham, He’d Make a Ham Sandwich, If He Had Some Bread

Yeah, I know, I’ve used the little folk saying in the headline above a lot, and maybe too much. But it sure does especially fit the case for John Kasich becoming the Republican presidential nominee. He’s the subject of the latest vast and friendly Molly Ball candidate profile today. And although we learn a lot about the man’s long career and apparently limitless if not exactly bohemian quirkiness (and also that Newt Gingrich considers Kasich “one of four conservative visionaries of the 20th century, along with Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp, and, of course, Gingrich himself”), this reader did not come away any more convinced he has a prayer of victory. The fact remains, as Ball intermittently acknowledges, that Kasich embraces the very same issue heresies that plague Jeb Bush and perhaps curse Chris Christie. He hasn’t even begun to apologize for them, and has a habit of self-righteously lecturing conservative critics that just won’t go over well on the campaign trail. I did find this anecdote reveailing:

Majorities of voters support expanding Medicaid, but many conservatives revile it as a costly expansion of government—and they aren’t fond of being lectured by Kasich about their supposed heartlessness. “He likes quoting the Bible—‘Thou shalt expand Medicaid,’ I keep looking for that verse,” John Becker, a conservative member of the Ohio House of Representative, told me. At a closed-door donor forum in Palm Springs hosted by the Koch brothers, Kasich was attacked by two fellow Republican governors, Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal, for “hiding behind Jesus to expand Medicaid,” a source who attended the event told me. “It got heated,” the source said.

Kasich also clearly has, as Ball also acknowledges, a personality that reminds people of Chris Christie (“he’s kind of a jerk.”). But again, I don’t get the sense he focuses his sarcasm on the Godless Liberal Enemy with sufficient consistency to make that a positive in a nomination contest.

So the burden of his rationale for candidacy falls heavily on his supposed electability. And here it is rather important to understand that (a) Kasich won his only two statewide victories in two of the best Republican years in American history, and (b) the second time around his Democratic opponent imploded completely, leaving him to run virtually unopposed.

If that’s not really much of a credential, then you are back to the argument that Kasich will become attractive to non-Republicans precisely because he’s honking off his fellow partisans. But then you run into his long history, which is concisely encapsulated in Gingrich’s approving description of Kasich as the Paul Ryan of a bygone era. You know, as in an era to which we have bidden good riddance.

Unless I missed it by dozing off for a few hundred words (Kasich has that affect on me), Ball didn’t even mention the burning issue the Ohioan has cited as the real rationale of his candidacy: a balanced-budget constitutional amendment. I don’t know if that means Kasich has suddenly changed his mind about thinking the BBA–not any of the other things all the other candidates in both parties are talking about–should be the hot-button issue in a year when the federal budget deficit continues to decline, or if someone’s told him it’s a worn-out political gimmick that is both deeply stupid and boring. After all, if Kasich brings it up, the other GOP candidates will simply agree with him and move on to other and more pressing subjects.

But it all points to there being no particular reason for Republicans to embrace this particular man. That might begin to change if John Kasich first acquired some ham.

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.