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Discord and Discourse: John Kasich on American Politics

Dawson Bell  

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore

John Kasich isn’t easily categorized.    

His roots are in the working class of western Pennsylvania as the son of a postal worker, and grandson of Eastern European immigrants. Yet, at 68, the former Ohio governor and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, has rarely been employed outside of government. Prior to signing on this year as a political analyst for CNN, Kasich’s only extended stay in the private sector was as an investment banker with Lehman Brothers until its 2008 collapse.  

In Congress, where he served from 1983 to 2001, Kasich was among the leaders of the Newt Gingrich conservative Republican revolution in 1994 and a noted budget hawk. As Ohio governor from 2011 to 2019, he was often at loggerheads with the state’s dominant GOP faction of conservatives and Tea Party activists, notably by backing the expansion of Medicaid eligibility under Obamacare.   

He was, and remains, a high-profile critic of President Donald Trump. But he couldn’t bring himself to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016, writing in the name of the late Arizona senator John McCain instead. For Michiganders attending the 2019 Mackinac Policy Conference, where Kasich will deliver a keynote address, perhaps he will be reminiscent of another former governor, Michigan’s “passionate moderate” of the 1970s and 1980s, William Milliken.    

“When most people hear me speak, they are surprised how little I talk about politics. I’m a CNN commentator, but this is not going to be a political analysis. It will be about ‘can do’ and ‘hope.’ I fundamentally want people to realize they can get things done.” 

Kasich says he believes the country’s salvation lies outside Washington D.C.    

“When people focus on their own lives and the lives of those around them, good things happen,” he says. “Communities matter. Power flows from the bottom up. Leadership is important. But at the end of the day leaders exist at every level.”    

Kasich recognizes that the current discord in national affairs affects people — it’s divisive and sours moods — however it’s important to remember that “what’s going on at home” is important because it impacts daily life.  

Even so, Kasich himself hasn’t entirely closed the door on another presidential bid in 2020. The political nonprofit he heads called Two Paths Americaan echo of his 2017 campaign memoir “Two Paths: America Divided or United”bills itself as a “center-right” alternative to radical wings on the left and right.    

And in or out of office or Washington D.C., Kasich will almost certainly continue to promote the vision for healing the nation presented in his memoir 

In it, Kasich writes: “The way forward is to focus on our shared moral compassthe one that points us to honesty, integrity, personal responsibility, faith, humility, compassion, forgiveness, tolerancethat will get us back on track.”    

It can be done, Kasich says. 

“I’m not a pessimist.”   

Dawson Bell is a veteran Michigan journalist who spent 25 years covering government and politics for the Detroit Free Press.