In an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Ohio Gov. John Kasich identified a key problem for the Republican Party: “Republicans are going to have trouble in a lot of these suburban districts, because a number of people who live in the suburbs, including women who have been traditionally voting Republican, are very uncomfortable with what they see.”
Pressed on what it is that disturbs such voters, he explained: “They don’t like harsh language. They don’t like division.” Put differently, they don’t like the chaos, the crudeness and the capitulation to right-wing populism.
Kasich made the case against the polarized politics that both parties have cultivated:
Be an American and care about being rational, objective and seeking the truth, because we’re almost in a post-truth environment. What does that mean? A post-truth environment means that somebody would argue I’m not even on the set with you. We have to get our facts right. We have to seek the truth. And if we have a difference between liberals, conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, we can mediate those differences, if we can agree to the facts, the basic facts.
He is one of the few Republican officials willing to defend the news media. “The press is such a critical foundation of freedom in our society and all over the world,” he declared. “The first thing that people do when they want to assume power, these autocrats in Central Europe, now is, they shut the press down.” He continued: “And here’s the question people have to ask themselves. If you don’t want to trust the press — and the press has a responsibility to not go just for hype — but if you don’t trust the press, who are you going to trust? A politician? I mean, that’s the last group of people I would trust, are politicians.” (He also made a pitch for a balanced-media diet: “How are we supposed to unify in this country if we only want to consume and agree with things that we like? It’s just — life doesn’t work that way. And let’s not teach our children to do that either.”)
His main point was the inadequacy of the two parties. “You have a department store that’s red and a department store that’s blue, and neither of them right now are providing products to the great middle,” he said. “And you know what happens? That’s how another store opens up in the neighborhood.” So does that mean he’s out to create a third party?
Perhaps: “I’m still a Republican. And I want to pull my — look, I didn’t leave the Republican Party. The Republican Party left me,” he said. “In my state, we have balanced budgets, surplus. We’re up a half-a-million jobs. And then people say, well, Kasich is not a conservative.” He pushed back on GOP pols and right-wing media figures who say he’s not a real Republican. “Does that mean I have to be anti-immigrant, anti-trade, in favor of debt? I mean, what — party, come on home. Come home to where we basically live. We’re pro-immigrant. We’re pro-trade. We’re pro-growth. We worry about that. We should care about people from top to bottom, not just those at the top, but everybody.”
Kasich, and many who formerly felt at home in a Republican Party that was big enough to include fiscally conservative/socially libertarian New Englanders, Main Street Midwest Republicans in the mold of former Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.) and Western Republicans (e.g., Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake), never considered the GOP to be a nativist, know-nothing party. Since the tea party movement, that is precisely the mind-set that has dominated.
A once-genteel party is angry and crude; a party grounded in respect for the Constitution is now authoritarian. A party that helped maintain the 70-year post-World War II international order is now a schizophrenic mix of isolationism and militaristic bombast. GOP governors (e.g. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Jeb Bush of Florida, Brian Sandoval of Nevada, Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin) were innovators in welfare, health care and school reform; now a slew of ideological extremists have bled their states dry of revenue and wrecked public education. Once upon a time, former education secretary Bill Bennett propounded on civic virtue, former senator Phil Gramm on fiscal responsibility and Jack Kemp on opportunity, urban renewal and sanctions against apartheid South Africa. That sounds like ancient history now.
Kasich would like to get back to that GOP, as would a good many Republicans. It is far from clear, however, that there is a market for that ethos or that there are mature politicians ready to tell voters that they don’t agree with mindless talk-show radio entertainers or conspiracy theorists. I’d like to think that if GOP politicians would offer something saner, kinder and milder than Trumpian crackpot-ism and xenophobia, then an audience would materialize. However, with each capitulation to President Trump and each assault on rational governance, that hope fades.
There is a chunk of the electorate up for grabs in 2018 or 2020 (or already willing to vote against any enabler with an “R” after his/her name) that is amenable to a third party or to a centrist Democratic Party. Kasich may have a great deal to do with the alternative to Trumpism that emerges. Disaffected Republicans need an option; more important, the country needs a responsible center-right party.
Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Washington Post, offering reported opinion from a center-right perspective.