Ohio Governor John Kasich has a pretty impressive resume—one that includes some serious conservative credentials.
During his nine terms in the United States House of Representatives, Kasich served six years as Chairman of a House Budget Committee that was instrumental in passing both the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 and welfare reform. From there he moved on to The FOX Channel, where his Heartland with John Kasich program espoused conservative economic theories of smaller government and reduced tax burdens every week for seven years.
In his two terms as governor of The Buckeye State, Kasich has overseen one of the strongest economic turnarounds in the country—at least on paper. The $8 billion budget deficit facing the state has become a $2 billion dollar surplus, while some 200,000 new jobs have been created and the state’s credit rating has been upgraded from a B to an A. He is pro-death penalty and anti-abortion.
So, why has the governor had such a hard time gaining any traction with the majority of conservative voters in both local and national polls?
“They simply see him as a moderate,” said Republican strategist Terry Brown “I don’t think it’s a label that fits, but somewhere along the way, people began to see him as sort of a Jeb Bush-like character that is kind of wishy-washy on certain key conservative issue.”
It is true that Kasich is in favor of a path to citizenship for illegal aliens already working in this country, and that he supported the expansion of Medicaid in Ohio, but does that make the governor a moderate?
“He’s a moderate in conservative’s clothing,” said GOP and Tea Party activist Norm Leonard. “He has expanded government in the state, sides with the position of people illegally residing in the country and has always been anti-gun.”
The gun issue is one that could truly cause Kasich some trouble, particularly in heavily red-state primaries. As a supporter of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, the governor earned the wrath of the National Rifle Association—something no would-be Republican nominee wants to deal with.
“Yes, he supported the Assault Weapons Ban, at a time when our nation was seeing violent drug battles in our city streets on a regular basis,” said Brown. “I think it was the right stance to take at the time, and one he needs to stand by. His record on protecting the rights of hunters and handgun owners has been strong and consistent from the beginning.”
The trouble that most Kasich supporters have to deal with is one that plagued both Mitt Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008—how far to the right does he have to go to garner the GOP nomination, and how much would that hurt him in the general election if he were to garner it?
“Kasich is a candidate that can win a general election,” said Brown. “He is balanced and steady on issues up and down the spectrum. He needs to maintain those stances and uphold his principles. If he runs to the right to appease an extreme side of the party—particularly on issues like immigration—he will be a sitting duck in November. He is a conservative in the mode of Reagan, with the ability to see the big picture and compromise when needed. That is what the country needs and what the party needs.”
The question is—is it what it wants?