Can Gay-Friendly John Kasich Run for President?


Few followers of Ohio political machinations were surprised to learn the state’s sitting two-term executive is about to wedge his way into what MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews calls the “GOP Clown Car” of Republican presidential candidates.

After early signs Gov. John Kasich would function solely as a GOP foot soldier for the Republican ticket, the former Lehman Brothers management director and FOX News personality has for the past two months been gauging party kingmakers’ (see private and corporate mega-donors) support by copping schmooze time with conservative stalwarts – a step he mostly skipped during his short-lived stab at the 2000 nomination. Kasich’s more public evolution from aide-de-camp to candidate-in-waiting began in earnest with an April 13 front-page Columbus Dispatch article peppered with strong hints at a second run (and photo op with a high ranking Quicken Loans representative).

Kasich has since formed a 527 fundraising committee and taken litmus-test junkets to New Hampshire and South Carolina where he was greeted with reserved but palpable interest.

But as is often the case with so called “second tier” presidential aspirants, Kasich’s lack of national exposure is both blessing and curse: His distant last place finish in an April Public Policy Poll measuring name recognition among registered Republican voters affords Kasich the opportunity to shape his own identity and message; yet given the sprawling field of declared candidates he faces an uphill struggle to become a serious primary presence.

Whatever Kasich lacks in national profile may be more than offset by a stable presence under pressure and at least a streak of moderation – an image typified in his response to a thorny question about same-sex marriage posed at a South Carolina Republican meet-and-greet.

Asked about reports the Catholic-turned-evangelical may be wavering on the issue, Kasich responded with the obligatory one man/one woman bottom line. But when asked if he would attend a same-sex wedding, Kasich risked the ire of Palmetto State hardliners with the nuanced and personal reply that he and his wife had only recently been invited to attend nuptials for a gay friend:

“I went home and I said to my wife, ‘my friend’s getting married. What do you think? You wanna go?’ She goes, ‘Oh, I’m absolutely going.’ I called him today and said, ‘Hey, just let me know what time it is,’” Kasich said. “My friend knows how I feel about the issue, but I’m not here to have a war with him. I care about my friend, and so it’s pretty simple for me.”

This is not to suggest Kasich is writing off such GOP staples as evangelicals, tea party activists, abortion opponents or the omnipresent NRA contingent: Woes will attend any Republican wannabe who mistakes the party’s nascent, para-moderation for true 21st Century diversity.

But Kasich has shown a willingness to govern a purple state with a few purple policies: expanding Medicaid; increasing controls on assault weapons; eliminating human trafficking and; adopting Common Core education standards.

Taken in the aggregate Kasich remains solidly within the confines of conservative thought and leadership, especially as applied to economic strategies, assistance programs and corporate favoritism. Yet as evidenced by putting friendship before issues in front of a rock-ribbed “pro-family” Republican audience, he frustrates both progressive and conservative efforts to categorize him as a rank-and-file party purist.

It’s possible despite all the speculation and insinuation Kasich will not seek the Republican nomination and instead accept a supporting role for 2016: The clown car is filled to capacity with relatively unknown “neoconservatives”.

But if Kasich does opt in his first challenge will be to establish an identity all his own – no mean task when you’re a “pro-family” Republican and some of your best friends really are gay.

Don Rollins is a juvenile court program coordinator and Unitarian Universalist minister.

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2015

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