WASHINGTON – Among the many Republicans (17 contenders) trying to get their party’s nomination, there are only a couple of serious candidates. No, I do not include Donald Trump, simply because it will be difficult for him to expand his significant but narrow base.
Trump is doing very well with the disaffected and skeptical Americans who have lost faith in “the system”. They do not believe that the establishment connects with them. They do not believe that traditional politicians are capable to get anything done. Hence their support for Donald Trump, the iconoclastic businessman. The “non-politician politician” who will fix things, in no time.
Large numbers, but not a majority
Fine. We understand all that. That said, there are only so many truly disaffected Americans. Besides, I suspect that some of these enthusiasts sooner or later will realize that Trump does not have any strategy to win a general election.
Sure enough, he can ride and interpret the mood of the angry voters. But, while numerous, they are not the majority. Not even close. Then, how do you win over a large portion of all the others? Certainly not by promising to deport 11 million illegal immigrants.
Beyond the obvious fact that this extreme position means no chance of getting any support from Hispanics, (and their votes now are critical to win many states), there are millions of independents who do not like this type of “immigration reform” platform. And there is more strange stuff put forward by Trump, including the promise to start a trade war with China, Japan and Mexico.
Bush and Kasich
Well, assuming that the Trump phenomenon, while real, will not completely transform this campaign, who else is out there? Very simple. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and incumbent Ohio Governor John Kasich.
Leaving aside a few details, from a policy standpoint these two are almost identical. They are both good executives with significant experience. They are fiscal conservatives. They have been and are popular in their own states. Most important, they propose a re-engineered Republican agenda that recasts the GOP as the party of “expanded opportunity for all”.
They both sincerely believe in actively promoting inclusiveness for all Americans. They support social services. They support good public education. They talk about ways in which we should transform the current welfare system into programs aimed at making recipients self-sufficient.
Now, in a campaign context, the real issue is which of the two is better at articulating this message. Jeb Bush has been accused of being an uninspiring stump speaker. Beyond that, there is reluctance to support yet another Bush for President. (This would be number 3). And, finally, Bush comes from a privileged background. The average American may believe that a rich guy who had all the opportunities to advance and succeed may not be able to really connect with him or her.
Well, then let’s give a better look at Governor John Kasich. He certainly comes from humble origins. His father was a mailman. And yet Kasich did well, without going to Yale, and without the benefit of powerful family connections.
He was a member of the House. He became the Chairman of the Budget Committee. In that capacity he contributed to craft the only balanced budgets the US has had in decades. While serving in Congress, he also gained national security experience.
Then Kasich left politics. He went into the private sector. He did well both in TV journalism and in financial services, working at Lehman Brothers. He also authored 3 books. And, finally, he was elected and then re-elected Governor of Ohio, a state that traditionally leans left. And he has done very well as Chief Executive. These are excellent credentials.
Conservatives care about all people
Beyond that, Kasich is doing his best to break the stereotype of the GOP as the party focused only on small government, low taxes and strong national security.
“Why do conservatives allow themselves to be put in a trap in which they are afraid to talk about these things [He means social issues]?…I balanced the budget in Ohio, I spent 10 years trying to balance the US budget, I’ve cut taxes more than any living governor, we have a rock solid credit rating [in Ohio]. And because I care about the mentally ill and drug addicted and those in prison, that’s not conservative? I believe that helping people have opportunity is all about conservatism. My mother used to say it’s a sin not to help people who need help but equally a sin to continue to help people who need to learn how to help themselves” [bold added]
A New Republican?
So, here is a “New Republican”. Forget about the worn GOP mantra of “the rising tide that lifts all boats”. Forget about “trickle down economics”. Kasich is eager to help the disadvantaged. He is eager to craft public policy so that it will create opportunity for all. But at the same time he will structure assistance so that it does not become dependence.
The “War on Poverty” did not succeed
The Democrats tried with the “War on Poverty”. Well, it did not work. Over many decades, the US government spent a fortune trying to help the needy, and we still have poverty. This is largely due to the fact that public assistance programs tend to create dependence. They are not designed to make recipients self-sufficient.
Can Kasich do this?
Can a Republican with a humble background prove to his party that reaching out beyond the base is not a betrayal of hard-core conservative principles? And, beyond that, can he convince middle America that conservatism is about creating expanded opportunity, and not a mean-spirited ideology?
I happen to believe that Bush and Kasich have their heart in the right place. May be Kasich can connect with the American people in a more enthusiastic manner. We shall soon find out.
That said, let’s be clear. Recasting the image of the party in order to widen its national appeal, while keeping the support of the “true believers” will be incredibly difficult.
However, precisely because it is difficult, I would feel a lot more confident if the messenger were a sincere believer with a good record as experienced Chief Executive of an important state.