Johnny Strikes Up the Band

The most fascinating news coming out of the 2016 Republican National Convention might not be the struggle between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz for the GOP nomination. It might be the prominent role that Ohio Governor and stealth radical John Kasich plays at the confab in Cleveland.

A case can be made that Kasich, the Boy Wonder of Wingnuttery, is actually the most dangerous of the three remaining Republicans running for the White House. Kasich has both Donald Trump’s extensive media training and Ted Cruz’s devotion to dogmatism: while he might not have a shot at the Republican nomination this time around, he stands an frighteningly good chance of being the GOP nominee four years from now if Trump (or Cruz) fails on November 8.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Kasich is chosen to be the keynote speaker; he will certainly provide a moment of calm in an otherwise contentious convention. He’ll also be running a long con.

If chosen as the keynote speaker, Kasich will deliver a sentimental speech, syrupy but not excessively so, urging Republicans to come together and embrace an uplifting, optimistic vision for the future. He will be “surprisingly” gentle in his criticisms of President Obama and the Democratic nominee. He will make full use of his formidable rhetorical gifts to make the case to viewers that the “real” Republican Party is compassionate, conscious and charitable.

It will all be a scam designed to convince gullible viewers that there are still signs of rationality in the GOP–and that Kasich represents old-school Eisenhower Republicanism. The idea is simple: if they lose with Trump or Cruz on Election Day, “establishment” Republicans will take advantage of whatever public goodwill Kasich generates as a result of his convention speech to promote the idea that only he can guarantee a GOP victory in 2020.

This gambit could work. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think that Kasich was indeed a moderate, reasonable Republican; when it comes to portraying such a mythical figure on the stage of American politics, Kasich’s acting is so good it rivals Brando in his prime. If I didn’t know any better, I’d buy a used car from this man.

Yet those of us who know better know the real John Kasich–the cold and cynical heart that beats in his chest, the conservative mendacity in his calculating mind. Kasich talks one heck of a moderate game, but make no mistake: he’s the wingnuts’ warrior.

Kasich may emerge as the real star of the 2016 Republican National Convention. He may convince casual political observers that he’s an honorable man, one who just might deserve the presidency if voters are dissatisfied with Democrats in 2020. He might be able to fool just enough people to make him the 46th president on January 20, 2021. The only question is: if that happens, how long will it take for those who were fooled to smarten up?

UPDATE: More from Think Progress, Rachel Maddow, the Washington Post, Chris Hayes and Scot Lehigh.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.