Oct 20, 2015
Thirteen weeks ago, Donald Trump shared with the Tribune Editorial Board an hour of his bombast, sarcasm and ... good-natured charm. Trump was a delight. And if that verdict surprises you, come sit here, because it surprised us too.
On Tuesday, Ohio Gov. John Kasich took a turn in the same chair. Kasich hadn't even announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination when we, like much of America, first engaged Trump. To the essay question that begins Compare-and-contrast:
If you want a rocking-good time on Saturday night, hop aboard Trump's helicopter or yacht or limo or jet. Bring your own quick wit or you'll soon fall behind. But if you're shopping for, say, a new president for your divided nation, a grown-up who has spent decades proving how capable he is at working the levers of government to deliver solutions, then skip Trump's entertaining show and pay serious attention to Kasich. If enough Americans do, you might see his name atop your election ballot on Nov. 8, 2016.
Even if he had a weak record in office, Kasich would wake up every day as a serious potential nominee. No Republican has won the White House without winning Ohio — something Kasich has done twice, most recently with 64 percent of the vote. GOP strategists get giddy at the prospect of pairing Kasich on a ticket with Marco Rubio (ascendant) or Jeb Bush (not really) of Florida, another gotta-have swing state.
But Kasich, even with his Ohio State diploma, is more than a dutiful Buckeye. His nine terms in the U.S. House gave him 18 years on the Armed Services Committee and six years as chair of the Budget Committee. An Associated Press synopsis of his career notes that in the latter capacity he was "the chief architect of a deal that balanced the federal budget for the first time since 1969."
As governor Kasich eliminated an Illinois-scale budget deficit and grew Ohio's rainy-day fund from 89 cents (true) to more than $2 billion. Ohio's economy is in growth mode and his state government is less bureaucratic than when he took office in 2011.
All of that said, there's something in Kasich's past for almost every voter to like or loathe. He's a conservative Republican who embraced Obamacare by expanding Medicaid. He boasts of cutting taxes more than any sitting governor in the U.S. yet believes in government "helping people get on their feet to live out their God-given purpose — that, to me, is America." He would put U.S. boots on the ground to defeat Islamic State in the Middle East. But he says that if battles are won with bullets and guns, wars are won with ideas — a liberal goal he thinks the U.S. hasn't tried hard enough to achieve. He supports a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution while admitting that he might tolerate deficit spending on tax cuts to spur growth and to build up America's military, adding briskly, "with reform of the Pentagon."
What struck us wasn't an urge to agree with everything Kasich says — we don't — but his willingness to speak straight and let listeners think what they will of him. This isn't a mesmerizing guy. He's a Midwesterner whose dad carried the mail. Some find him preachy: At a conference last year he scolded a woman who challenged his moral argument for expanding Medicaid. "I don't know about you, lady," Kasich said, pointing at her. "But when I get to the Pearly Gates, I'm going to have an answer for what I've done for the poor."
Maybe Kasich won't rise in this election cycle beyond the role Jon Huntsman Jr. played in 2012: the favorite Republican of liberal Democrats. But we also can see Kasich taking the mantle of the late Jack Kemp — smart on economics, conservative in outlook, with a moderate streak that creates crossover appeal.
We aren't sure whether the Trump bump has reflected the feelings of rank-and-file Republicans or of people from several ideological tents who share a revolutionary anger. When tempers cool, though, a strong array of GOP candidates awaits. We won't be surprised if Kasich works his way into the top tier.
One last observation on the two men who sat in the same leather chair:
Trump had an absolutely splendid necktie.
Kasich didn't bother to wear one.
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