COLUMBUS, Ohio - In less than a year’s time, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has gone from an “adult in the room” alternative in a fractious Republican presidential field, to a potential convention spoiler in Cleveland, to now facing a hostile new president who reached down personally to seize control of the state GOP.
The roller coaster ride has left many wondering whether Kasich’s political star and personal influence have faded. To this, Kasich had a direct answer this week: “You know (how) they talk about lame duck? They never met me.”
With his characteristic defiance, Kasich has re-emerged in recent weeks after a period of retreat that followed a painful decision to concede his presidential ambitions for a second time.
The 64-year-old Republican has vetoed what would have been one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws and Republican-backed legislation further delaying Ohio’s alternative-energy mandates. He has resumed his public schedule in Ohio and scheduled appearances over the next week in Atlanta for Martin Luther King Jr. Day and in Washington to discuss health care with senators and attend President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.
Kasich is Republicans’ singular 2016 presidential contender never to fall in line behind Trump. His actions cost Kasich control of the Ohio Republican Party on Jan. 6, when then-Chairman Matt Borges was pushed out by Trump’s favored candidate after the president-elect made personal phone calls to some central committee members.
“The governor faces some unusual political problems because of the fallout of the presidential election,” said John Green, of the University of Akron’s Bliss Institute.
University of Dayton associate political science professor Nancy Martorano Miller said, “I think the rest of the state GOP is trying to walk that line between the two of them, because we don’t know how this is going to play out. The big question marks are how is President Trump going to react to places and things and people that didn’t line up behind him?”
That Kasich aides remain engaged on social media and that Kasich is writing op-eds and a book suggest the former congressman isn’t done running for office, Miller said. In other words: This, too, is politics.
“They may be banking on a strategy that things go horribly wrong for the Republican Party in the next two years,” she said. “It’s a risky bet.”
But Kasich has sustained voter support in his closely divided bellwether state. A Monmouth University Poll in October found that Kasich’s anti-Trump stance hadn’t hurt his overall favorability rating, though he has lost some support among fellow Republicans and gained some among Democrats.
During public events this week, Kasich espoused a message that’s equal parts John F. Kennedy and Mr. Rogers, urging people to ask not what politicians can do for them, but to “stick your nose in somebody else’s business” to help solve society’s tough problems. Bracing the state for a painful budget cycle, he says that every person is special and that the country needs people engaged in their communities to effect change.
Nazek Habatfha, 35, of Dublin, is a graduate student and Islamic youth leader who petitioned for Kasich’s eventual veto of the renewable energy bill. She said Kasich impressed her as he weathered the year’s political blows without seeming to betray his values.
“Sometimes doing the right thing is not necessarily doing the popular thing. That’s really the position that John Kasich is in, as I view it, and I hope that we will look back at John Kasich and say he was that minority voice that stood up for what is right,” said Habatfha, a Hillary Clinton voter. “Right now, popular opinion is not on his side.”