The Day Johnny Rotten Met Johnny Kasich

Dec 7, 2018

One thing about John Kasich, the soon-to-be former governor of Ohio: The dude will talk to anybody with the time and patience to listen to him. Good trait for someone who yearns to be president, I suppose.

And when I say anybody, I do mean anybody.

I remember the scene in Philadelphia in the summer of 2000, where no less than Johnny Rotten, front man for the legendary punk rock group the Sex Pistols, was cornered at the bar by Kasich, dropping names of rock stars and explaining how the Internet would change everything for the music industry.

John Kasich in his dark Republican-style business suit and his close-cropped hair; Johnny Rotten in a fluorescent yellow shirt and his spiked (then) red hair.

The occasion that brought this unlikely pair together was the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia – where Kasich had once hoped to be crowned as his party's presidential nominee  – and, for Johnny, whose given name is John Lydon, a taping of his VH1 variety show.

It happened in a Philly joint – now long gone – called Finnegan's Wake Pub, which was loved by some as a "home away from home" bar and abhorred by many as a pestilence on the city.

Kasich had thrown a party for the Ohio delegation earlier that day at Philadelphia's Hard Rock Café, and ended up later at a reception for one of his fellow Republicans at Finnegan's.

He was there with a handful of media-types and his wife Karen, plus their twin daughters, Emma and Reece, who were only about six months old. I was following him around for a profile piece.

I have to laugh when people occasionally ask me a simple question: Is John Kasich running for president?

Are you kidding me? He has been running for president for at least 20 years now.

He has chased the Golden Fleece as a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination twice already, and will, in all likelihood, try it again in 2020, either as a Republican or an independent.

In the summer of 2000, Kasich arrived in Philadelphia as one of a legion of GOP losers who had tried to take on George W. Bush's money machine and lost.

Kasich had been the House Budget Committee chairman and had decided not to run for a 10th term in Congress in early 1999. Instead, he formed an exploratory committee.

He explored Iowa and New Hampshire, the first caucus and primary states respectively, trying to introduce himself to voters who, for the most part, had no idea who this guy from Ohio was.

Being chairman of the House Budget Committee was a powerful position, but it wasn't enough to make him a household name among GOP voters.

By July, he had raised only about $3 million, including $1.4 million transferred from his House campaign fund. George W. Bush, who, of course, won the nomination, had about $36 million in the bank.

So, in July, Kasich faced the inevitable and dropped out of the race (before he had formally entered it), making the announcement in Columbus and meeting with Bush in Washington later in the day, where he endorsed Bush for president.

Too early, too unknown, too broke to be president.

But, in Philadelphia, he did all he could to give people the impression that he was still a player and kept a high profile with the Ohio delegation and among the big-wigs of the party.

And, in the end, it brought him face to face with Johnny Rotten.

Rotten was minding his own business at the bar, drinking a Murphy's Stout and being interrupted by the occasional college Republican who wanted to pose for a picture with him.

One kid was having trouble operating his camera, clearly irritating the punk rock star.

Go get your slave to do it for you, Johnny barked.

It was about that time that Kasich ambled up to the bar, with a small entourage following behind and introduced himself to Johnny Rotten.

Rotten (Mr. Rotten, to you) seemed to know who Kasich was. Kasich asked him if he followed politics.

"I pay attention, yes," Rotten said. "I don't like Bush, you see."

Kasich, of course, was going to set him straight on the subject of George W. Bush.

"The thing that I like about Bush is that he's a street fightin' man. The kind of guy Jagger sang about in that song."

This was the first of a flood of references Kasich made to rock stars, pop stars – all a rather obvious, somewhat clumsy attempt to impress Johnny Rotten with his vast knowledge of popular culture.

When Kasich mentioned that he was going to work on some issues with U2's Bono, Johnny R. was not impressed.

"Yeah, 'Bozo,' as I know him," Rotten said.

Kasich seemed a bit taken aback by that and changed the subject, somehow, to Sonny Bono, the pop singer who served with Kasich in the House for three years until his death in 1998.

"You know, Sonny Bono once told me – he said he met The Beatles and he said they ruined them because they got too complicated,'' Kasich said. "You have to keep it simple."

Rotten started twisting around in his seat, as if he were looking for the door marked exit.

Kasich forged ahead on his trip through pop culture.

"Now I got a real bone to pick with Metallica,'' Kasich said, getting a laugh out of Rotten.

"I'm very, very upset,'' Kasich said.

"So am I," Rotten said. "Who's pulling their strings?"

"Well, I don't know who it is, but I know that Napster has bought them up,'' Kasich said. "I told the drummer, if you want to protect your music, your creative music, then you'd better go live on Mars because the fact is the Internet and technology means that we're all going to have access. Power for you and me!"

Johnny Rotten said nothing, but seemed to think this made sense. And it was rather prescient of Kasich.

Then Kasich introduced his wife, who was with the twins in their baby carriages.

"You see my little babies,'' Kasich said.

"Oh, little sweeties," Rotten said. "They're sound asleep. I usually have that effect on women."

Everyone present giggled.

And then they parted ways.

Rotten put his arm around Kasich.

"You're a good salesman," Rotten said.

Kasich was probably left wondering, "Where was this guy when I needed him?"

If and when Kasich runs in 2020, he shouldn't count on the punk rock friend he made in Philadelphia 18 years ago.

Lately, Johnny Rotten's been saying nice things about Donald Trump and has been seen wearing a Make American Great Again T-shirt.

These punk rockers are a fickle bunch.

Read more "Tales from the Trail" here