The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Has Kasich Stumbled on a Winning GOP Strategy?

428px-Governor_John_Kasich

Don’t look now, but the Republican governor of an electorally important state is making a name for himself with a vocal defense of the poor and the safety net they depend on. The NYT reports on Governor John R. Kasich of Ohio:

“I’m concerned about the fact there seems to be a war on the poor,” he said, sitting at the head of a burnished table as members of his cabinet lingered after a meeting. “That if you’re poor, somehow you’re shiftless and lazy.”…

Once a leader of the conservative firebrands in Congress under Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, Mr. Kasich has surprised and disarmed some former critics on the left with his championing of Ohio’s disadvantaged, which he frames as a matter of Christian compassion.

He embodies conventional Republican fiscal priorities — balancing the budget by cutting aid to local governments and education — but he defies many conservatives in believing government should ensure a strong social safety net. In his three years as governor, he has expanded programs for the mentally ill, fought the nursing home lobby to bring down Medicaid costs and backed Cleveland’s Democratic mayor, Frank Jackson, in raising local taxes to improve schools.

Kasich’s critics on the left allege that his move toward the center, which includes welcoming the Medicaid expansion, is nothing but a political ploy in anticipation of his upcoming election. Indeed, he seems to be combating the usual GOP austerity track not with new, creative ideas but with old, handpicked blue ideas like raising taxes to pad existing, unreformed programs.

Whether or not it’s the calculating political move his critics allege, Kasich is already seeing his poll numbers rise. That’s no surprise, really. Championing the needs of the poor is a simple message that’s also morally sound and politically advantageous. Yet somehow no Republican leader consistently delivers that message. Dialing back the rhetoric about personal responsibility and how much social welfare programs add to the deficit could help win back the trust of low-income Americans, including immigrants and some minority groups. That should be a priority for the GOP as a whole.

Kasich may not turn out to be the policy maven who points the way forward for his party, but he may be on to the right electoral strategy. The GOP will have a hard time claiming to be the party of opportunity and growth if those most in need of both continue to distrust Republican policies and, worse, intentions.

[Image of Governor Kasich courtesy of Wikimedia]

Published on October 29, 2013 3:30 pm
  • http://www.reticulator.com Reticulator

    Whenever I hear the words “Republican” and “strategy” connected in the same sentence, I poke under rocks for the malevolent influence of Karl Rove.

    Republicans do not do strategy well, and should not do strategy. We don’t let babies play with sharp knives, and we should not let Republicans try strategy. They only hurt themselves.

    A better course of action is to support good ideas and legislation, and oppose bad ones.

  • Pete

    It sees that the only thing the average low income American trust is BIG GOVERNMENT.

    • Clayton Holbrook

      Can you blame them, really? Families, churches, schools, the community as a whole have failed them.

      • Pete

        Many have failed themselves, no?

        • Tom

          Mutual failure.

  • Clayton Holbrook

    I have a theory that we’re in a generational “Get of my lawn!” reactionary moment. Older folks, especially that label themselves as conservatives, increasingly do feel that society isn’t as productive and it’s b/c “those darn lazy takers”; most of whom are younger than them. It’s not a politician problem, but actually a true electorate belief. Even the Dems’ older constituency reacting conservatively feels their SS and Medicare are being taken away, that they believe they “earned”, anytime somebody proposes reform.

    Just a thought, maybe I can develop it more.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Don’t bother….just get off my lawn

      • Clayton Holbrook

        Thanks for validating my thought.

  • Bruce

    Kasich is pandering. It’s the same thing as Bush’s “compassionate conservatism.” It implies that unless you are passing around huge amounts of re-distributed money, you are not compassionate and don’t care about the poor. A true capitalist economy would lift more of these people from poverty than wealth transfers ever will. It’s a shame we don’t have one anymore. It is also irrefutable that wealth transfers with no strings attached have created dependents. But feigning compassion apparently gets more votes than stating this truth.

    • Clayton Holbrook

      I agree. It’s about empowerment and opportunity, not redistribution. However, it’s not redistribution to refocus gov’t investment on those that truly need it, and those that need lifting. Simply put: less Social Security, more education and infrastructure. Less Medicare, more investment in mental health.

  • jeburke

    Good for him. There is not the remotest chance that a governing majority can or will be forged in the US that would roll back or significantly curtail the social safety net for lower-income Americans. What can be accomplished by some conceivable Republican-led government is to curb excesses in such programs, improve their efficiency, contain their growth and channel new money into opportunity-expanding programs such as school competition.

  • Fat_Man

    Kasich was my congressman during the 1990s. I sit 200 yards from the Ohio Governor’s mansion (where he does not live). Kasich really believes what he is saying. He has never been a conservative. He believes in big government, and that he should be running it.

    His theory belongs to wing of the Republican party that believes in that the New Deal was a good thing, but that it needs to be better managed. It was exemplified by Richard Nixon and in Ohio, Jim Rhodes, who was Governor for 16 years in the 60s and 70s.

    Kasich is in that sense a survivor of a past era. He is not loved by conservatives in Ohio, or the rest of the Country either.

    The idea that his thinking, so admired by the NYTimes represents a path toward anything for the Republican party other than irrelevancy won’t fly.

    Furthermore saying you love the poor and want to lavishly fund blue model programs like Medicaid is stuff that can only make sense to a Democrat.

    Medicaid is not about helping the poor. It is about pumping money into the hospital systems that are monopolistic and highly profitable.

    If you really want to help the poor you would promote systems to seal the borders and prevent employers from driving down wages by hiring illegals. I could go on but you get the point. Funding blue model programs is the stuff of the past.

  • wigwag

    With his approval level mired in the low 40s and his disapproval rate in dangerous territory in the high 40s, the Ohio Governor had to try something and fast. It’s actually even worse for him than that because Ohio women who vote in higher numbers than the State’s men have an even more negative view of Kasich.

    Remember, it was only a couple of years ago when Kasich experienced a humiliating defeat when voters rejected his attempt to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights. Ohio is a swing state that is swinging left; Obama won it going away last year.

    Kasich isn’t stupid, if he wants to be reelected he has no choice but to move left. It seems that unlike much of the rest of the Republican Party, Kasich has no desire to commit political suicide.

    The Ohio Governor surely noticed his fellow GOP colleague, Chris Christie, literally embracing Barack Obama last year in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. I’m sure he also noticed when Christie practically called the House Republicans morons. Just last week, Christie capitulated on gay marriage; this after practically tacitly endorsing the Democratic Mayor of Newark in the special election to fill the vacant Senate seat of the late Frank Lautenberg.

    Christy will win by a landslide by, more or less, impersonating a moderate Democrat. If it’s working for Chris Christie, why shouldn’t John Kasich give it a try?

    The United States as a whole is moving decisively towards the left; conservative Republicans who can’t figure out how to accommodate this reality will be swept away.

  • Anthony

    “Kasich may not turn out to be the policy maven who points the way forward for his party, but he may be on to the right electoral strategy.” The aforementioned infers a politician who demographically knows his state and desires to be reelected to his sinecure – in that regard nothing new (per PUBPOL behavior as adumbrated by WigWag below).

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Is there anyone that thinks the waste, corruption, and theft in the welfare programs isn’t massive? Efficiency and competence aren’t parts of the government skills set, and these programs would cost less than half of what they do now, if they were being administered by a private management company that had to compete for the business.

  • lhfry

    Some, maybe many, Christians mistake a religious duty – helping the poor – with the responsibility of government in this area. They forget that salvation is an individual, not a group goal.
    When government gets into the compassion business, the incentives become unbalanced. We need social welfare programs for those genuinely unable to support themselves, but we have gone way beyond that group now. Giving in on this is not a winning strategy for Republicans. And I’m not one, but I am a conservative, and will vote Republican as long as they don’t become “Democrat-lite.”

  • Bruno_Behrend

    In reading the comments here, I’m saddened that so many smart people can’t see the benefits of Kasich’s strategy, flawed as it may be in its details.

    First, the last GOP president won twice as a compassionate conservative, even as his most of his hallmark legislation was markedly conservative. (Tax cuts, Medicare D being a model of private sector meeting public needs, Stem Cells, etc.)

    While W was hardly perfect, and conservative who says there was no difference between him and Gore or Kerry shouldn’t be considered a serious commentator.

    Second, Kasich is clearly positioning himself for re-election. So TF what! That is what politicians do. It doesn’t hurt that he’s partially correct that the right sounds awful with their “throw-the-poor-off-the-bus-as-long-as-we-get-our-unsustainable-SS-and-Medicare.”

    While I dislike Kasich’s seeming to “cave” on the specifics of helping the poor, the facts indicate that America can have a viable safety net AND a robust economy without leaving the poor behind.

    As a matter of fact, conservative ideas, Insurance exchanges, HSAs, Private/Public Social Security splits, vouchers, etc. are perfectly viable financial models that do more for the poor than the failed legacy systems of the so-called “progressives.”

    It’s sad to see people bashing Kasich for being pretty much right where the American people are politically.

  • Bruno_Behrend

    As for WigWag’s usual floggings…

    The American people are hardly moving left.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2013/09/30/americans-are-more-conservative-than-they-have-been-in-decades/

    In fact, even the recent “drubbing” for the GOP and tea party is an illustration of the “Overton window” in action.

    The “extreme” position of the shutdown masked the fact that the Dems “clean CR” was Paul Ryan’s spending level.

    Now that the battle is over for a few weeks, all we see in the news is another massive failure of big government.

    Where WigWag has a point, is that the right must begin to moderate its message so as to consolidate some of its gains.

    Now is the time to negotiate and lock in spending cuts. As the spending cuts start to burn, force the Dems to put Soc. Sec. and Medicare on the table.

    ObamaCare will either be reformed more along conservative lines, or it will collapse of its own weight. Spending, not ObamaCare, is the ball the right must keep its eyes on.

    I can’t predict whether Kasich is getting all wet, or whether he is triangulating into more conservative positions for a second term. If it’s the latter, he will prosper politically. The blue model, contrary to Wig’s views, truly is unsustainable.

    ___

    Lastly WW, collective bargaining for public workers is insane. Walker and Daniels beat them, and Kasich didn’t.

    Any benefit extracted by unions for their workers, by definition, increases the cost of public services.

    By that very definition, it should be banned.

    Every public dollar should buy the MOST services it can. Hence, paying one dime more for services than we need to hurts the public.

    Every public job, contract, and service should be “reverse bid” by qualified people/companies. As the cost of government services are driven into the dirt, the public prospers.

  • http://www.federaleagent86.blogspot.com/ Federale

    The poor are shiftless and lazy, that is why they are poor. If they worked hard, saved, did not waste money on sex, drugs and entainnment, they would not be poor. Of course, a low IQ helps one make bad decisions. Kasich just wants the votes of the lazy and indolent on welfare. Hardly a winning strategy since the Demoncrats have that vote locked up.

  • stan

    This is an easy one. The GOP nominee in 2016 merely needs to point out that govts in the US spend over 21,000 per person under the poverty line. Obama says that number is going up to 25K. So a family of four gets 100,000 plus what they earn, plus what they get off the books, plus what they get from charity. I can just hear the liberals scream in response that not very much of that money actually gets to the poor. True. It goes to govt employees (i.e. Democratic supporters). To get the votes of both the poor and the conservatives, merely cut out some of the middlemen. Lower costs, but get more of the cash to those it is supposed to help. Poor get more, taxpayers spend less.