Wednesday, October 28, 2015

John Kasich's Risky Move

Yesterday, Ohio Governor John Kasich publicly expressed exasperation with the state of a Republican presidential nomination contest in which he is currently a secondary candidate:

"I've about had it with these people," Kasich said at the rally in Westerville, Ohio. "We got one candidate that says we ought to abolish Medicaid and Medicare. You ever heard of anything so crazy as that? Telling our people in this country who are seniors, who are about to be seniors that we're going to abolish Medicaid and Medicare? . . . We got one person saying we ought to have a 10 percent flat tax that will drive up the deficit in this country by trillions of dollars" and there's another challenger in the field who "says we ought to take 10 or 11 [million] people and pick them up — I don't know where we're going to go, their homes, their apartments — we're going to pick them up and scream at them to get out of our country. That's crazy. That is just crazy."

Given the leading position that Donald Trump and Ben Carson currently hold in the polls, as well as their unorthodox positions on certain issues, it is natural for other candidates to attack them—even if not by name. And there are no doubt plenty of Republicans who share Kasich's point of view; abolishing Medicare is unlikely to be a winning issue even in a Republican primary. But the rest of Kasich's remarks are more newsworthy:

"We got people proposing health care reform that's going to leave, I believe, millions of people without adequate health insurance," Kasich says. "What has happened to our party? What has happened to the conservative movement?"

Kasich has moved here in a few sentences from criticizing Trump and Carson to criticizing the party and ideological movement in which Trump and Carson are, at the moment, popular figures. He does not argue that Trump and Carson are not true Republicans because they are not conservative enough—the most common criticism lodged against them from within the party, especially in Trump's case—but rather that the party and the movement have gone too far in the other direction and become disconnected from political reality. It's hard to know exactly what Kasich means by his reference to health care reform; he could be talking about Carson's position alone, but he could also be construed as questioning the broader support among many of his fellow candidates for repealing the Affordable Care Act—the primary policy goal of the Republican Party and conservative movement over the past 5 years, after all—without proposing a replacement plan that would cover the same number of people.

In the short term, Kasich may benefit from the attention that his remarks will receive, especially if he continues to voice these objections during tonight's debate and in the future. Kasich may even succeed at breaking out of the large field of also-rans to become the preferred candidate of moderate and pragmatic Republicans. But it is hard to imagine the GOP ultimately choosing a presidential nominee who has openly expressed such a critical view of both the party and the conservative movement that he seeks to lead. Though Trump and Carson may fade, the primary electorate that now supports them is unlikely to muster enthusiasm for a candidate who shows such limited sympathy with the sentiments that now attract so many Republicans to the prospect of revolutionary policy change.