Ohio Gov. John Kasich is regarded as one of the four main contenders in the Republican nominating contest for the “establishment” vote, with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio being the other candidates in the running for this bloc of votes. As noted in earlier posts, the candidate who is best able to expand beyond the establishment bloc and bring in conservative voters is likely to be the one best positioned to remain a serious contender deep into the nomination process.
As described in an earlier post in this mini-series:
In considering voters who fall into both the establishment and conservative “lanes,” LPA assumed that (1) such voters would be looking for candidates with a mixture of experience, electability, and a strong commitment to enacting a conservative agenda, and (2) in areas where a candidate deviated from the conservative viewpoint, voters would have to evaluate whether the candidate would make a serious push on that issue and be likely to prevail.
There is a great deal for conservative voters to like about John Kasich’s record in Congress. He was probably the leading deficit hawk during his tenure, and he successfully crafted the first balanced budget the federal government experienced in a generation. Kasich was one of the leading architects of the welfare reform legislation that President Bill Clinton signed in 1996, and he was a reliable vote for tax cuts throughout his time in Congress.
He also spent 18 years on the House Armed Services Committee, giving him a solid background in foreign affairs and defense policy. While he voiced some concern about excessive defense spending and specific programs he thought wasteful, he supported the Reagan defense buildup in the ’80s and his views on foreign policy are generally hawkish.
In his work as the governor of Ohio, there are several items sure to please most conservatives. He signed legislation reforming public sector collective bargaining similar to those passed in Wisconsin, and he also succeeded in cutting taxes. He has been an advocate of school choice and charter schools, and his pro-life record is likely to appeal to conservatives as well.
Where does Kasich deviate from conservative orthodoxy? Looking at the profile compiled at the Leadership Project for America (LPA), there are a couple of notable areas where his record will be troubling to many supporters of limited government, particularly his embracing Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and a surprising (compared to his record in Congress, at least) turn in favor of corporate welfare:
While Kasich opposes the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), he earned the ire of conservatives by deciding to expand Medicaid in Ohio under Obamacare.39 When he was unable to get legislative support in his state for Medicaid expansion, he reverted to an executive order to do an end run around the legislature, turning the power to accept federal dollars over to an unelected state board.40
Kasich left Congress before Medicare Part D, the prescription drug program, was passed. He did vote in favor of legislation in 2000 that would have established a similar program, relying on voluntary purchase of private drug coverage.41 He also opposed allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with manufacturers for prescription drug prices, a policy many believe would amount to price controls on medicines.42
Kasich was one of a handful of representatives who co-sponsored the first legislation creating health savings accounts (then called medical savings accounts),43 and in 1995 he voiced support for block granting Medicaid to the states.44
When Obamacare passed, then-candidate for governor Kasich issued a statement criticizing the bill and saying health reform should have been based on tort reform, interstate sale of health insurance, and an end to underwriting for pre-existing conditions.45
Kasich’s track record on corporate welfare is spotty. As a U.S. representative in the 1990s, he led the charge against corporate welfare. Working with Democrats, Kasich brought daylight to the public funds spent to support private enterprises, especially when the provision of those funds had little or no apparent benefit to the public.59
But he also authored hundreds of millions in tax breaks for companies in Ohio, including Ford, American Greetings and Diebold. While the benefit to certain constituencies is fairly obvious, these tax breaks are in many ways the very definition of corporate welfare.60 As governor, Kasich privatized Ohio’s economic development program, turning it into a nonprofit called JobsOhio responsible for doling out incentives and other giveaways to companies in order to either lure them into the state or retain existing operations.61 The nonprofit receives the profits from Ohio’s state-owned liquor operations for distribution to companies chosen for subsidies.62
In 1995 as chair of the Budget Committee he rejected a proposal to defund the Export-Import Bank.63
Kasich also signed legislation doubling the state’s program providing tax credits to film production companies.64 In 1995 as chair of the Budget Committee he rejected a proposal to defund the Export-Import Bank,65 although he did support ending it in 2015 when Congress considered its re-authorization.66
His record in these areas isn’t uniformly bad from a conservative perspective. On health care, he has been a supporter of health savings accounts, block granting Medicaid to states, and opposed using government bargaining power to effectively establish price controls for prescription drugs. But his Medicaid expansion is likely to be a sticking point for many conservatives, given the priority so many place on repealing the law.
But more distressing to conservatives than his actual embrace of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion may be the unilateral action he took in ignoring the Ohio legislature and using his executive authority to expand the program, given the way many conservatives feel about Obama’s extensive use of executive orders and unilateral action. Also not helpful in bringing conservatives to his side is a habit of lecturing those who disagree with him on the issue. As described in an October Breitbart article:
During a Tuesday appearance before the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Ohio governor and Republican presidential candidate John Kasich offered to buy Bibles for those of us who don’t agree with his decision to increase the welfare state. Quite famously, Governor Kasich agreed to ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion in Ohio. This is his latest defense:
Look at Medicaid expansion. Do you know how many people are yelling at me? I go out to events where people yell at me. You know what I tell ’em? … I say, there’s a book. It’s got a new part and an old part; they put it together, it’s a remarkable book. If you don’t have one, I’ll buy you one. It talks about how we treat the poor. Sometimes you just have to lead.
Apparently, ObamaCare critics have missed that part in the Bible where Jesus calls on us to expand an already-deadly federal welfare state that destroys the human spirit, breaks up the family, and creates generational dependence.
I don’t mean to argue with Brother Kasich, but I must have missed the part where the Christian thing to do is to use the punitive power of The State to force your personal Christian values on others.
This is not the first time Kasich’s lorded his superior Christianity over the rest of us selfish sinners. He made this argument back in 2013:
Kasich continued: “I had a conversation with one of the members of the legislature the other day. I said, ‘I respect the fact that you believe in small government. I do, too. I also know that you’re a person of faith.
‘Now, when you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he’s probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor. You better have a good answer.’ ”
Kasich has long had a reputation for being willing to criticize Republicans, as the LPA profile wrote about:
His speaking style has been described as “blunt” and he has been praised for a “tell-it-like-it-is” style,4 which could play well on the campaign trail and in debates.
He also has a reputation for having a short temper and a difficult personality.5 He has made a point of lecturing or criticizing Republicans, conservatives and allies who disagree with him,6 and he has a penchant for picking rhetorical fights that might be better avoided.
While this trait could easily be an asset in a general election, as demonstrated by the way he talks about the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, it is likely to turn off many potential conservative voters.
On corporate welfare, he has mounted a vigorous defense of his policies in Ohio, although without the same sort of moral hectoring as on Medicaid expansion. In addition to being out of step with the more free-market oriented element of the conservative movement, Kasich may also appear to many to have completely flipped on the issue. In Congress, he was a reliable opponent of corporate welfare and helped to bring national attention to wasteful spending. As governor, he has embraced the opposite position.
For establishment-oriented conservative voters, these two issues (as well a few others, such as his support for the 1994 assault weapon ban, since admitted by him to be a mistake and a failure) should raise considerable concern.
On health care, he has not released a detailed plan, and the few words he has on the subject at his campaign site do not mention health savings accounts or anything else that is often touted by market-oriented health care policy experts. His website touts JobsOhio, the state-funded entity that distributes economic development aid to bring business to the state, as an “undeniable and quantifiable success.”
Altogether, it seems likely that a President Kasich would continue to support, at a minimum, the current Obamacare Medicaid expansion as well as existing federal corporate welfare programs. For conservatives with a pro-establishment orientation, these two items alone could be a deal-breaker, and if they aren’t, then his use of executive action and habit of lecturing his opponents may be enough for many to eliminate him from consideration.