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Ohio holds the title of “Mother of Presidents.” Eight of them were born, raised, or lived in Ohio at the time of their election. But the last president to hail from Ohio was Warren G. Harding, who was elected nearly a century ago. Current Ohio Governor John Kasich hopes to change that. Last month he declared that he was running for president, making him the sixteenth prominent Republican and the eighth current or former governor to join the race. If Kasich wins next November, he would be just the second graduate of a Big Ten university to become president. (A graduate of the University of Michigan beat him to the punch). But Kasich would have the distinction of being the first Big Ten grad to be elected president.
Name: John Kasich
Date of Birth: May 13, 1952
Place of Birth: McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania
Religion: Raised a Roman Catholic, now a practicing Anglican.
Political Party: Republican
Marital Status: Divorced (Mary Lee Griffith); Married (Karen Kasich)
Children: Twin daughters, Emma and Reese
Alma Mater: Ohio State University
Career: Career: Ohio State Senator (1979-1983), U.S. Representative (1983-2001), Fox News Host (2001-2007), Managing Director, Lehman Brothers (2001-2008), Governor of Ohio (2011-present)
Campaign Website: https://johnkasich.com/
Twitter Handle: @JohnKasich
Kasich announced his run for the White House before several thousand supporters at his alma mater, Ohio State University. He shunned the traditional approach of having a finely crafted announcement speech that advances a unifying theme or introduces a campaign slogan. Instead, he spoke extemporaneously from notes—he doesn’t like Teleprompters--for forty-four minutes. He conveyed a variety of messages that he is likely to repeat on the campaign trail: he is a common-sense Midwesterner, he comes from humble origins, he is experienced, he can fix a broken Washington, and he believes in America.
Kasich said little about foreign policy in his announcement. He did say:
Let me be clear, our military must be improved. We need to cut the bureaucracy and strengthen our services. Now I’m a person that doesn’t like to spend a lot of money, but in this case, national security, climbs to the top of the heap because we must be strong and we must assume our role as leaders of the world.
The self-proclaimed Islamic State, the Iran nuclear deal, Russian aggression against Ukraine, and the rise China, to name just a few of the foreign policy issues in the news, all went unmentioned.
Kasich grew up in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, an industrial town of about 6,000 people located five miles northwest of Pittsburgh on the southern bank of the Ohio River. His father was a mail carrier and his mother worked at the Post Office.
Kasich moved to Columbus, Ohio in 1970 when he was eighteen to attend Ohio State. He was already interested in politics. That December he wrote to President Richard Nixon, asking if he could visit the White House and going so far as to say “I would immediately pass up a Rose Bowl trip to see you.” Nixon, who was more accustomed to college students taking his name in vain over Vietnam than in calling him “not only a great president but an even greater person,” said yes. Kasich met Nixon in the Oval Office for twenty minutes on December 22, 1970. When asked years later what the two had discussed, Kasich said “I don’t really remember that visit.” But he also says that he spent more time in the Oval Office on that December day than he did in his eighteen years as a member of Congress.
Smitten with politics, Kasich worked for a state legislator after graduation. In 1978, he ran on his own and won a seat in the Ohio Senate. Four years later, at the age of thirty, he won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing a district centered around Columbus. He initially served on the House Armed Services Committee, where he first established a name for himself opposing production of the B-2 bomber.
Kasich became a national figure with his work on the House Budget Committee. After the Republicans won control of the House in the historic 1994 election, he became committee chair. In that position, he helped lead the GOP charge to cut government spending. That culminated in the U.S. government shutting down twice in late 1995 as Congress and the White House couldn’t agree on a budget. While the political fallout from the shutdowns helped Bill Clinton win reelection and the budgets that Kasich favored were never adopted in their entirety, his efforts eventually helped slow down the growth of government spending and produce (for a short time) a federal budget surplus.
Kasich ran for president in 1999, but quickly dropped out of the race when he failed to gain traction with donors or voters. He decided against running for reelection to his House seat in 2000. After completing his House career, he become a managing director of Lehman Brothers and hosted From the Heartland with John Kasich, a talk show on Fox News. But the lure of politics remained strong. In 2010, he defeated Ohio’s Democratic incumbent governor in a hotly contested race. He won reelection easily in 2014.
Kasich has known tragedy in his life. His parents were killed in 1987 by a drunk driver. Their death led Kasich, who was raised a Roman Catholic but “had drifted away from religion as an adult,” to turn to evangelical Protestantism. He participates in biweekly Bible study sessions and attends a conservative Anglican church in Columbus.
Kasich prides himself on being a problem-solving, straight-talking Midwesterner with strong convictions and the courage and experience to carry them out. But sometimes his straight talk crosses the line into brusqueness if not rudeness. He can flash a temper and a tongue to go with it. He has threatened lobbyists in Ohio, “If you’re not on the bus, we’ll run you over with the bus,” told a reporter doing his profile that writing about politicians was a “really dumb thing to do,” and used a speech to call a cop who pulled him over for a traffic violation “an idiot.”
Kasich’s willingness to follow his convictions has at times put him at odds with prevailing GOP views. This was most evident when he bucked the party in 2013 and expanded Medicaid in Ohio at time when Republican leaders in Washington were trying to kill the Affordable Care Act that made the expansion possible. It didn’t help matters when Kasich said that his faith helped lead him to his decision:
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.
At a closed-door meeting with Republican donors, fellow governors Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal accused him of “hiding behind Jesus to expand Medicaid.”
I’ve always said the party is my vehicle and not my master.
Whether that attitude inspires GOP voters or alienates them remains to be seen.
Foreign Policy Views
Unlike most of the other governors who have thrown their hat into the presidential ring, Kasich has significant defense and foreign policy experience. He served on the House Armed Service Committee for eighteen years, a fact he frequently mentions. His service as chair of the House Budget Committee also gives him a deep understanding of the Defense and State Department budgets, an understanding that few if any of his GOP rivals can match. That said, Kasich’s decision to ignore foreign policy in his campaign announcement speech and his public comments since then indicate that global events aren’t likely to be what he stresses in his bid for the White House.
The Self-Proclaimed Islamic State
Kasich thinks that when it comes to the top foreign policy challenges facing the United States, “radical Islam is a really giant one.” To that end he wants to do more to defeat the self-proclaimed Islamic State:
The Western world and the Arab world need to get serious about stopping this kind of radicalism. If not, it will continue to spread and just bombing is imposing the status quo at best.
Kasich doesn’t “like the idea of getting involved in civil wars and I’ve always been a military reformer who is interested in special forces and using technology in better ways.” Nonetheless, he thinks it’s necessary to commit U.S. combat forces to the fight:
I would have them in a role where they’re going to be on the ground fighting. I mean, you’ve got the air power, but you can’t solve anything just with air power. But I would be part of a coalition and I would take them down and begin to destroy the caliphate.
Kasich hasn’t said how many U.S. troops he envisions sending to confront the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or whether he would order them to fight in Syria. But he suggests that the operation wouldn’t take long or require any follow-up action by the United States:
It is probably something that can be addressed without an extended affair and without nation-building or any of that.
Kasich has not explained why ISIS or a successor group wouldn’t rebound quickly once U.S. troops departed or didn’t succeed at leaving an effective government behind. One of the main GOP critiques of Barack Obama is that he threw away the victory won with George W. Bush’s surge when he declined to keep U.S. troops in Iraq.
Kasich wants to do more in Syria.
I called John McCain many months ago saying we needed to support the opposition in Syria. And I called John Boehner and I said, anything that I can do so we can begin to arm the opposition t Assad and drive him out of power for a variety of reasons, including geopolitical, which I know you know vis-à-vis Iran, the Soviet Union, I believe that was important.
The open question, though, is how to ensure that the successor government in Syria doesn’t make Assad look good in retrospect. The success of ISIS fighters, their brutality against anyone who stands in their way, and seething ethnic and religious enmities in Syria make that a tall order.
They’re not only to get a nuclear weapon, but now they’re going to have all this cash to support the Hamases and the Hezbollahs. It’s a very bad agreement.
However, Kasich has declined to commit himself to tearing up the deal on day one of his presidency, assuming the deal goes through and he becomes president. He says that suggesting otherwise is:
Inexperience. That’s just playing to a crowd.
So what is his preferred strategy?
I think you keep the sanctions on. Do I fear that the Russians and Chinese will weaken the sanctions? Yes. It’s a concern. But yet the western world ought to hang together. We ought not let them get this money as quickly as they can.
Whether Britain, France, and Germany, the three Western members of the P5+1 group that negotiated the deal, will stick with Washington if it walks away from the deal is a test that none of those three allies wants to take. If China and Russia abandon the sanctions, lots of other countries will as well, making them far less effective.
Kasich sees China as both a friend and an adversary. But he appears to be thinking it’s more the latter than the former:
I think, you know, sort of the honeymoon is kind of over. What I think is that, you know, they don’t listen much to what you say, they listen to what you do. We can continue to maintain a decent relationship, but they don’t own the South China Sea. And we ought to send some forces in there to make it clear that they don’t own it. That doesn’t’ mean we have to become an enemy, but it does mean that we mean what we say and we say what we mean. And send the message to the Chinese.
Left unsaid is what the United States should do if China pushes back rather than backs down.
Kasich favors arming Ukraine so it can stand up to Russian-backed separatists:
In Ukraine, you know, the Ukrainians need the material to defend themselves. I mean, the Ukrainians have had a horrible history. They lost millions of people when the Soviets starved them. They tried to wipe out their language. Now they want to fight for themselves; let’s help them.
But what if Russia opts to escalate rather than back down? When asked, Kasich has avoided saying what he might do, or even acknowledging that his preferred policy could make things worse:
Well, let’s not get into all the hypotheticals about this and that. . . . I think that when people start answering questions based on hypotheticals, and laying things out, it creates ultimately cynicism because there’s promises made and statements made that can’t be carried out. What I would tell you is an attack on any of our N.A.T.O. allies is an attack on us.
Ukraine, of course, is not a member of NATO. Should it be? Kasich “would love that to be the case,” but acknowledges that “right now it’s not very practical, is it?” He does give President Obama credit for pre-positioning materiel in the Baltic countries, which are NATO members.
Kasich calls himself a “cheap hawk”:
I believe in a strong defense but I also believe in efficient defense. I was involved in procurement reform. I limited the production of the B-2 so we could use those resources to build standoff weapons that we saw in the first gulf war. And in addition to that, I was very involved in Goldwater-Nichols, which got the services to work together so that they could fight together and really be effective together.
In keeping with being a cheap hawk, Kasich wants a larger and better prepared military. But he isn’t necessarily committing himself to spending a lot more on defense. He wants to squeeze savings out the Pentagon’s budget.
I’m very concerned that we have seen an erosion of our naval power. Cutting more people in the armed forces? I don’t think makes sense.
"But what I will tell you is—I’m sure you would agree with this. There needs to be some dramatic and significant reform inside the Pentagon. You have 900,000 people who act as bureaucrats inside that building. Do you know how long it takes to field a weapons system? We need to deal with the infrastructure we don’t need in this country anymore. We shouldn’t have weapons systems that are outdated."
"And at the end of the day, we have to be able to project power, and the ability to project power means you have mobility and lethality. Now, these are not things I studied the other day. These are things I lived for 18 years, and frankly, I’ve stayed in touch with all these kinds of issues even when I’ve been out."
Kasich wouldn’t be the first policymaker to try to reform how the Pentagon does business. Presidents, secretaries of defense, and members of Congress have been pushing reform initiatives for decades. The problem is, no one has yet figured out a politically feasible solution that works.
Kasich has staked out a position on climate change similar to that taken by fellow governors Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal. He agrees the climate is changing and that human activity has something to do with it. But he doesn’t have a plan for how to respond and worries that climate change activists are promoting policies that overreact to the problem:
I am a believer—my goodness I am a Republican—I happen to believe there is a problem with climate change. I don’t want to overreact to it, I can’t measure it all, but I respect the creation that the Lord has given us and I want to make sure we protect it….But we can’t overreact to it and make things up, but it is something we have to recognize is a problem.
Kasich is a staunch supporter of coal, a significant source of jobs in southeastern Ohio as well as a major source of heat-trapping emissions. Kasich favors developing clean coal, a technology that has yet to live up to its promise.
Most GOP presidential candidates are unbridled free traders. Not surprisingly for someone from the Rust Belt, Kasich isn’t.
Now, there are some people actually running for president now who think that no matter what happens, they’re free traders. I’m not. I am not. I am for open trade, free trade, but I am for clamping down when the United States worker gets shafted because somebody is cheating on a trade agreement.
Kasich hasn’t spelled out what it means to “clamp down” on trade or outlined what qualifies as “getting shafted.” But he is for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade negotiation that would put 40 percent of the global economy under one set of trade rules. He also supports NAFTA, though not necessarily for reasons you might think:
You know, one thing we want to hope with the Mexicans in particular is that they’re going to be able to get on their feet, that their economy is going to grow. That they’re going to be a stronger neighbor so they don’t have to run over here to find something that represents success in life.
Kasich clearly understands that choices in one policy realm can have consequences for another.
Speaking of immigration, Kasich’s views on the subject, like those of many GOP presidential candidates, have evolved over the years. But unlike his rivals, Kasich has moved in a more moderate direction. He once championed the idea of amending the U.S. Constitution to end birthright citizenship, the practice by which anyone born in the United States automatically becomes a citizen. He has dropped that idea, and hasn’t returned to it even after Donald Trump made national news by touting it in his immigration plan. Kasich instead called the idea of ending birthright citizenship a “stumbling block” in getting workable immigration reform and added:
I think we need to get over that. I’m not for it anymore. Let these people who are born here be citizens and that’s the end of it. I don’t want to dwell on it.
The 12 million—11 or 12 million—who are here, we ought to find out who they are. If they’ve been law-abiding over a period of time, they ought to be legalized and they ought to be able to stay here. There are people who contribute a lot to the United States of America.
How does Kasich explain his change of mind? He says he is “maybe a little smarter now” and being governor has taught him a few things:
The country needs healing. I wouldn’t ever be one to tell you that I don’t change my mind or that my thinking doesn’t evolve. … I’m also a different guy than I was years ago. This job grows you up.
So what would Kasich do on immigration? A mix of things:
First of all, finish the fence, use modern technologies, drones, the sensors, and all these things. . . . Then have a guest worker program so that people can come in, work and then leave. Our program is too narrow now.
The twelve million that are here, I think we ought to find out who they are. Obviously, they’re going to have to pay a penalty for having jumped the fence. But at the same time, you know, if they’ve committed crimes, they got to be deported, put in jail. If anybody’s been sneaking in recently, they should be sent back. And we need to look at our whole immigration system.
But we got to fix this. In all the political debate and the polls and all that other nonsense. Just get it fixed. And you know what Reagan did? Reagan did amnesty.
Kasich is right about what Reagan did as president, but that won’t make the anti-immigration bloc among Republican rank-and-file voters any happier with his position.
More on Kasich
Kasich is the author of three books: Every Other Monday: Twenty Years of Live, Love, Faith, and Friendship (2010), Stand for Something: The Battle for America’s Soul (2006), and Courage Is Contagious: Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things to Change the Face of America (1998).
The Washington Post has “It’s Pronounced KAY-sick, and 4 Other Things You Should Know About the Ohio Governor.” NPR has “5 Things You Should Know About John Kasich.” Cincinnati.com has “6 Things to Know About John Kasich.” The Daily Signal has “13 Facts About John Kasich, the Newest 2016 Candidate.” ABC News has “Meet John Kasich: Everything You Need to Know (And Probably Didn’t Know) About the 2016 Republican Presidential Candidate.” The Miami Herald has “Meet John Kasich, the Straight-talking GOP Candidate Threatening Jeb Bush.” CBS News has “John Kasich: What Does He Stand For?” Cleveland.com has “The World According to John Kasich,” which presents quotes from Kasich on a variety of foreign policy issues. And the Atlantic has “The Unpleasant Charisma of John Kasich,” which comes with the teaser that “he could be 2016’s most interesting candidate.” The Cincinnati Enquirer discusses “How John Kasich Could Win.”