How John Kasich Could Reshape 2020 and Beyond

How John Kasich Could Reshape 2020 and Beyond

John Kasich posed for a portrait at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, on June 20, 2019.

SourceAndrew Spear/Getty

Why you should care

Because he has a vision for a post-Trump GOP.

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When Donald Trump stirred up a national controversy by targeting a high-profile quartet of freshmen Democratic women of color in Congress, saying they should leave the country, the response from Republicans was largely muted.

Not John Kasich.

For the better part of four years, the former Ohio governor has been one of the most prominent, consistent and relentless critics of Trump among his fellow Republicans. And as his “deplorable” comment suggests, he would like more backup.

Kasich is staking out ground in a vital debate raging beneath the surface of a largely united Republican front going into 2020: What does the party look like after Trump?

To many in the party, that’s an impossible question to answer as of now. “I don’t think anyone knows what the GOP will look like post-Trump,” says veteran Republican strategist Doug Heye.

But for Kasich, 67, the path before the party is clear. His pitch, made lately as a CNN contributor after he left the governor’s office early this year, looks like an outright rejection of Trump. That position starts with morality honed in his Roman Catholic upbringing outside Pittsburgh. Kasich also has a flair for getting noticed: He finagled his way to a meeting with President Richard Nixon as a college freshman after writing Nixon a letter.

First elected to Congress in Ohio in 1982, Kasich built a career as a fiscal hawk — taking the reins of the House Budget Committee in 1995 under Speaker Newt Gingrich. That put Kasich at the forefront of spending clashes with President Bill Clinton’s administration, and he also introduced the welfare-reform bill that Clinton signed into law.

After a brief run for president in the early days of the 2000 election cycle, Kasich ended up leaving Congress for the media business — including getting his own show on Fox News. Pulled back into the political arena to run for governor, he won two terms leading Ohio. Throughout, he’s been known as an unpredictable — if a bit surly — political actor. He attacked the public-sector labor unions of Ohio with gusto but also authorized an expansion of the Medicaid health insurance program under Obamacare.

Kasich took considerable grief for the latter move during his 2016 campaign, but he always cast the decision in moral terms: “People have accused me of, at times, having too big a heart,” he said at one Republican debate.

The same keep-’em-guessing approach applied after he dropped out in late spring: He refused to endorse Trump and wrote in John McCain on his 2016 ballot. Kasich has toyed often with the notion of running in a Republican primary against the president, and at one point was floating a sort of bipartisan “Unity Ticket” to run up the middle in 2020 — pairing himself with former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who now sits on the fringes of the Democratic primary.

As the intramural attacks on the Democratic side continue to rise, Trump enjoys 90 percent approval in his own party. Former Rep. Mark Sanford — another political wild card — is weighing a GOP primary campaign against Trump, and former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld has formally jumped into the race. But Kasich would carry far more weight if he took the plunge, either as a Republican or as a maverick independent who could play general-election spoiler.

Kasich has been publicly skeptical of his chances of winning, though he recently told The Washington Post, “You know, things are very volatile in this business, and you just cannot predict what might change.”

But there’s more than a will-he-or-won’t-he debate going on here: It’s about what happens for Republicans once Trump exits the stage — be it in 2021 or 2025. Other prominent voices in the party, such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who also ran against Trump in 2016, are shaping more of a pivot. Rubio talks often about seizing the economic populism behind Trump, making sure GOP fiscal policies are more geared to lower tax brackets.

“The stock market is important but it’s not THE economy,” Rubio tweeted recently. “The ‘financialization’ of our economic policies has created incentives to prioritize the short term value of shares instead of long term investments needed for the creation of stable & dignified jobs.”

It’s far from clear whether either of the course corrections proposed by Kasich and Rubio will win out, or if the party will just continue to ride the Trump wave. The answer might depend on how long the Trump presidency lasts, which John Kasich could well sway.

Nick Fouriezos contributed to this report.

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