The relief on their faces was palpable. “Finally,” they were obviously thinking, “a presidential candidate who’s not a complete bozo!”
The cream of Vermont’s Republican crop was on hand — and visibly on stage — for yeseterday’s Town Hall meeting for Ohio Gov. John Kasich. There’s a wonderful photo by the Burlington Free Press’ April Burbank, showing a handful of top Republicans gazing toward Kasich with the sort of giddiness usually seen on the face of a kid with cancer who’s meeting a star athlete through Make-A-Wish.
Can’t say I blame ‘em. The prospect of running on a ticket with the likes of Donald J. Trump or Ted X. Cruz has to give people like Phil Scott the heebie-jeebies. Kasich, unlike the rest of the Republican Clown Car, offers the image of a reasonable, moderate conservative willing to work with all parties and feeling genuine concern for society’s poor and unfortunate. Couple of problems, though.
First, they’re jumping onto a leaky lifeboat. On the very day of his triumphal visit to Vermont, Kasich was getting his butt handed to him in the South Carolina primary, coming in fifth place behind a guy who “suspended” his campaign as soon as the results were posted, and barely ahead of Dr. Sleepytime, Ben Carson.
How did Kasich characterize his own campaign?
Ohio Gov. John Kasich probably could have used a better phrase for his plan to consolidate establishment voters than “we’re going to keep struggling” in an appearance on Sunday’s “Face the Nation.”
So the VTGOP came out strong for a candidate who’s hanging on by his fingernails, hoping against hope that a first-place finish in Vermont or Massachusetts and maybe second in Michigan will keep his campaign out of the ICU for another week or so.
Second, there’s the Inconvenient Truth about Kasich’s actual record, as previously chronicled in this space. He is not a moderate; he is not, when the rubber hits the road, compassionate. He is one of a number of Republican governors who have advanced the ALEC/Koch Brothers agenda as often and as hard as they can.
And there’s no reason to believe that President John Kasich would be any different. Quite the opposite: his record suggests his current persona is a sham, a Foxy Grandpa act designed to snooker gullible centrists yearning for a candidate who’s not a complete embarrassment.
Lt. Gov. Phil Scott can portray Kasich as “the adult in the room” all he wants, but Kasich’s Ohio record is that of an ideologue. He’s on the verge of defunding Planned Parenthood; his choice-based education program has underperformed and stripped public schools of needed resources; he has cut taxes and balanced the state budget by loading the burden on the backs of local governments; he tried like mad to restrict the bargaining rights of public sector unions, only to be rebuffed by Ohio voters in a statewide referendum; his tax cuts have failed to boost the Ohio economy.
Oh, and his tax-cut plan is pure Laffer Curve: as President, he would impose big tax cuts mostly benefiting businesses and the wealthy. He claims he can balance the budget within eight years, but that’s based on the assumption that tax cuts will jumpstart the economy and provide a windfall of new tax revenue. There is absolutely no proof that has ever worked. Indeed, all the available evidence is on the other side: large-scale tax cuts benefit those at the top, but the trickle-down is weak at best.
Sure, he says nice things about global warming, and desperate Vermont Republicans are pinning a great deal of hope on that. However, his record as Ohio governor is one of unabashed cheerleading for the state’s coal industry. And in 2014, Ohio became the first state to roll back renewable energy standards when Kasich signed a two-year freeze on a renewables program initiated under his Democratic predecessor Ted Strickland.
Recently, he has reversed course, coming out against a freeze extension. Maybe that’s because he saw the positive economic benefits of renewables; it’s one of the only bright spots in Ohio’s otherwise mediocre jobs picture.
In truth, John Kasich looks slightly reasonable — but only by comparison to the other nutballs in the race. Desperate Vermont Republicans can look to him as a savior if they want; but in truth, if John Kasich is Phil Scott’s idea of governing from the center, then I don’t want to see Scott in the corner office.
Scott has not endorsed Kasich, although he has ruled out everyone in the Republican field except Kasich and Marco Rubio. If he endorses either one, he should be prepared for a lot of questions about how his governing philosophy compares to theirs.
Because if Phil Scott wants to do for Vermont what John Kasich has done for Ohio, then Phil Scott ain’t no moderate.