Kasich's "Waiting for Godot" candidacy

Apr 26, 2015

Still we wait. Like Vladimir and Estragon in Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” waiting for the Kasich presidential candidacy to arrive.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich has done everything a presidential candidate should do, except for one – announce his candidacy.

He’s showed up in early primary and caucus states, like South Carolina and New Hampshire.

He's created "New Day for America," a tax exempt committee raising money for his travels around the country to promote his idea of a constitutional amendment to require a balanced federal budget. It could easily be converted into a presidential exploratory committee.

He’s signed up former New Hampshire senator John Sununu as one of the directors of New Day for America, a Republican who still holds some considerable power in New Hampshire, home of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

He’s spent the past few days in Washington, D.C., pitching his balanced budget idea on Capitol Hill, meeting with influential conservative groups and even attending the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, as the guest of the Wall Street Journal.

He’s done pretty much everything except say “I am running for president.”

Last weekend, he was in New Hampshire pleading with a roomful of GOP activists not to commit to other GOP presidential contenders too soon.

“I’m trying to figure out what the Lord wants me to do with my life,’’ Kasich told the GOP faithful in New Hampshire. “He has a purpose for everyone in this room. I want to fulfill my purpose. Life is short. In the next world, I’ll be held accountable for what I do here.”

Granted, this is the kind of rhetorical flourish, based in Kasich’s Christian faith, one does not often hear from politicians.

For Kasich, though, it is par for the course. It is the way the man talks.

If he does formally announce, he will join what is already a crowded field. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have all made it clear they intend to run for the GOP presidential nomination.

More are on the way.

Kasich, if he joins the fray, will not always be toeing the party line. He’s told his party that it doesn’t sufficiently care for the poor – usually casting his argument in Biblical terms – and he chose to expand Medicaid in Ohio under Obamacare, a position that is anathema to many in the party, particularly those in the tea party wing of the party.

What would Kasich bring to the table as a GOP presidential contender besides his colorful rhetoric and his unorthodox conservatism?

Four letters: O-H-I-O.

Start with the fact that ever since there has been a Republican party, there has never been a Republican elected president without winning Ohio. Nary a one. That’s a pretty strong argument right there.

And Kasich, while out on the stump in places like New Hampshire and South Carolina, has been touting the “Ohio miracle” – turning an $8 million budget deficit into a $2 billion surplus, cutting spending and lowering taxes, made the state more “business friendly” with his private development team, JobsOhio.

Ohio Democrats tell another story, of course.

Ohio Democratic Party chairman David Pepper recently released a statement that saying that Ohio is still lagging behind the rest of the country in economic recovery.

“He has raised taxes on working families, and raided local government and school funds year after year, resulting in lay-offs of teachers, firefighters and emergency services around the state, while forcing hikes in local taxes,” Pepper said.

Still, he was elected to a second term last fall with nearly 64 percent of the vote. Against a Democratic candidate who was so incredibly bad that a head of cabbage might have done better on the ballot.

The latest poll on Kasich’s job approval, done by Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in February, had the Republican governor at 55 percent approval, with 30 percent saying they disapprove of the way he is doing his job.

Pretty good cards to bring to the table.

Mack Mariani, associate professor of political science at Xavier University, thinks there is a chance Kasich could be successful as a GOP contender, but said a lot of things have to fall into place for the Ohio governor.

“It’s a matter of whether or not Jeb Bush falters,’’’ Mariani said. “Christie has completely imploded. Bush is going to try to torpedo Rubio.”

As for Walker, “I wonder whether or not he is a top tier candidate,” Mariani said. “But I think he gets a look from the Republican primary voters.

"Walker won his fight with the unions; Kasich lost his,” Mariani said, referring to the 2011 campaign that repealed Senate Bill 5, a Kasich-back bill that would have limited the collective bargaining rights of public employees such as police and firefighters.

Mariani said he is hearing more and more talk of Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, as a serious GOP presidential contender. The Wall Street Journal reported that Fiorina will announce her candidacy via social media on May 4.

Kasich, Mariani said, “is someone who could handle himself very well” in debates with other GOP presidential candidates.

Kasich’s positions on issues like Medicaid expansion and his criticism of Republicans for not doing enough for the poorest among us won’t be a major impediment, Mariani said.

“I don’t think the Republican establishment cares a lick; that’s just the cost of doing business in politics,’’ Mariani said. “Where it hurts him is with the tea party wing of the party.

“The challenge for Kasich,’’ Mariani said, “is how do you stay afloat until Bush falls apart. If Bush falls apart.”

A relevant question, if Kasich actually takes the plunge into the race. Lord only knows at this point.