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Ohio Gov. John Kasich enjoyed what was likely the largest crowd of his presidential campaign when he spoke to some 18,000 activists at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in late March. Standing slightly hunched at a glass-top lectern, Kasich delivered a workmanlike speech touting his pro-Israel bona fides, looking down to read most of his remarks as he kept his bearings on the rotating Verizon Center stage and battled a loudspeaker delay.
Finally, he looked up and delivered a familiar line: “I will not take the low road to the highest office in the land,” Kasich thundered, waving his index finger in the air as the crowd erupted in applause. “I will not do it!”
Kasich’s refusal to go negative has largely defined his presidential campaign, but it’s only one of the ways in which the political veteran has marched to his own beat—in both policy and strategy. Critics said Kasich, the last major candidate to launch his campaign, waited too long to get in the race. Now they say Kasich has waited too long to get out. “A vote for John Kasich,” Sen. Ted Cruz began arguing in early March, “is effectively a vote for Donald Trump.”
Kasich, who has won only his home state primary, has refused to leave the race, instead urging Cruz and Trump to consolidate behind him: “I’m beating Hillary [Clinton] by 11 points,” Kasich told NBC’s Chuck Todd in late March. “I’m the only one that can win in the fall.” Kasich may be right, according to polls. They show him performing better than either Cruz or Trump in head-to-head matchups against the two Democratic candidates, Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Kasich, who served nine terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, boasts of his gubernatorial experience and notes he’s the only candidate who has actually balanced a budget—first as the House Budget Committee chairman, then as governor. Although Kasich set a ticking fiscal bomb by expanding Medicaid in Ohio, he has also facilitated strong job creation there.
The pro-life Kasich, 63, was raised Roman Catholic but became an evangelical after a drunk driver killed his parents in a 1987 car crash. Kasich attends St. Augustine’s Anglican Church in Westerville, Ohio, part of a 7-year-old denomination that affirms biblical marriage, and says his faith affects the way he makes policy decisions. But Kasich has built his moderate reputation in part on his support for the Common Core education standards and his statement indicating that business owners who do not want to be involved in gay weddings should not have conscience protections: “I mean, if you’re in the business of commerce, conduct commerce,” he said.
Is Kasich’s dream of gaining the nomination an impossible one? One of America’s best election analysts, Henry Olsen of the Ethics & Public Policy Center, notes that all three of Kasich’s second-place finishes (among more crowded fields) have come in the Northeast, which will be the center of attention in late April. Kasich is running close to Trump in recent Pennsylvania polling and would almost certainly compete better than Cruz in a slate of other states voting on April 19 and 26: New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, and Rhode Island.
On March 27 radio host Hugh Hewitt, who reported on politics for WORLD in 2005 and 2006, penned an op-ed in the Washington Examiner describing a hypothetical meeting between Kasich and Cruz to form an alliance at a deadlocked convention. He listed numerous reasons why Kasich should be at the top of the ticket, including his age, experience, and general election strength.
Hewitt has Kasich saying to Cruz: “We go out together, go up and announce Kasich-Cruz, raise our hands. Hug Donald. Hug everyone. Get a team together, telegraph Romney at State, Carly at Treasury, and get this, whomever you want for Supreme Court. We’ll tell them that. Tell them you will make a recommendation to me by the end of October and that I am going to accept that recommendation publicly unless the nominee has insulted my wife or my girls. We also tell them you have the lead on all judicial picks … and that we are dead serious about remaking the courts. You’ll be to the courts what Cheney was to national security in the first term.”
Why would Cruz say yes to such a proposal? Here’s Hewitt’s fanciful rendition of Kasich’s final pitch: “Turn me down and together we watch a great dramatic meltdown that ends in a catastrophe for the party and worse for the country. Could even be a miniseries. Might take a couple of weeks. Eventually Mitt or Paul will try and put the pieces together but everyone—everyone—will leave angry. Everyone. You and I do a deal, well, Donald understands deals. We’ll give him a lot to do. We’ll even give him the fence to oversee the building of.”
In Hewitt’s analysis, Cruz won’t get the nomination but this way could gain needed experience as vice president and position himself, at age 53, as the party’s presumptive nominee in 2024—en route to a potential 16 years in the White House.