The OZY Hunger Games: Kasich, The ‘Prince of Light’ Fades

The OZY Hunger Games: Kasich, The ‘Prince of Light’ Fades

By Sean Braswell


Because even if a leopard could change his spots, he’d never be king of the jungle.

By Sean Braswell

Remember how The Hunger Games would honor its fallen tributes? In this occasional series, OZY predicts which presidential candidates will be the next to fall — whether they know it or not. 

There’s nothing more compelling in politics than a good underdog story, Gov. John Kasich. And there’s nothing more amusing than watching a political chameleon change colors before one’s eyes. With your 2016 candidacy, we’ve been treated to a healthy helping of both, watching as a cranky foot soldier of the Newt Gingrich revolution morphed into a self-proclaimed “Prince of Light and Hope” who catapulted himself to a respectable second-place finish in New Hampshire

But the harsh reality of politics has a way of intruding on even the most captivating redemption stories. So does losing all but one of 40-plus contests — even Ted Cruz, who beat you yet again (to the exits on Tuesday), won in more than just his home state. The truth is, Governor, trying to float above the fray in this year’s GOP contest is as good as not being in it. It’s admirable to see a candidate attempting to run an uplifting campaign (even if yours didn’t respond to our request for comment on your prospects), but your version of “big tent” conservatism is playing to an increasingly small crowd.

Shape-shifting on the presidential campaign trail is nothing new, and you’re no stranger to the evolution necessitated by changing political environments. John Kasich 1.0 was elected to the U.S. House in 1982, a scrappy brawler and fiscal hawk who was the son of postal employees from working-class Pittsburgh. Your pugnaciousness would get you into trouble in Congress, where you were often at odds with your own party, particularly on budget issues — even John McCain remarked on your “hair-trigger temper.” 

However many iterations you undergo, you’re still, as The Atlantic put it, “kind of a jerk.”

But when callous conviction came back into vogue with the Gingrich revolution, you were awarded with a budget committee chairmanship and a hefty role in both the welfare reform and Bill Clinton impeachment efforts. Your 18 years in Congress came to a head in 1999 with 47-year-old John Kasich 2.0, your first presidential candidate model — a Pearl Jam–loving, budget-slashing compassionate conservative anyone could have a beer with. Alas, there was a Texas governor with a similar shtick who had more connections, and a lot more money, and you dropped out after five months.

Passed over for a spot in the Bush administration, John Kasich 3.0 resigned from Congress and tried a new gig: television news. Your Fox News show, From the Heartland, ran on Saturday evenings until 2007, and you cemented yourself as a conservative firebrand. At the same time, John Kasich 3.1 was working in the investment banking division of Lehman Brothers, until that ship went down in 2008 and it was time for John Kasich 4.0 to pick up the pieces and return to politics.

Despite being labeled a fat-cat banker in the midst of a recession-rocked nation, you eked out a victory in your return, becoming Ohio’s governor in 2010. Ever since, you have been test-driving John Kasich 5.0, your premium presidential model — a rough-around-the-edges but folksy exec who can work across the aisle, appeal to blue-collar voters and take on his own party, famously accepting Obamacare’s Medicaid funding because his Christian values required him to help the poor. And when Trump kick-started a race to the bottom in this year’s GOP primary, you were quick to recognize a market opportunity, releasing the John Kasich 5.1 upgrade — the “happy warrior” and anti-Trump candidate — just in time for the primaries to open.

But the fact remains, however many iterations you undergo, you’re still, as The Atlantic put it, “kind of a jerk,” the old-fashioned boorish, insensitive, loses-his-temper kind, not the megalomaniacal sort that GOP voters appear to prefer. And you always have been: Even as an 18-year-old college freshman you managed to bully your way into a 20-minute meeting with President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office. Alas, that will likely be as close to the White House as you get.

You may get one last chance, however, to reinvent yourself: as John Kasich 6.0, the ideal vice presidential nominee and running mate, the Patron Saint of the Great Swing State of Ohio. But it sure is hard to picture you standing hand in hand with Trump at your party’s convention — the world hasn’t seen that kind of jerk union since Howard Stern befriended Andrew Dice Clay.

Please pay your respects to the “Prince of Light and Hope” as he returns to his cave. Gov. John Kasich of Ohio.