I met five of the 15 2016 Republican presidential candidates and, over the years, enjoyed particularly interesting personal conversations with two of them.
One of the two, Donald Trump, was elected president of the United States on Nov. 8, 2016, in what can only be described as a remarkable upset over Hillary Clinton, carrying 30 states and raking up a 304-227 Electoral College victory while losing the popular vote to Clinton by nearly 3 million votes.
I met the talkative Trump and sat at his table as he was hosted by Gov. Jesse Ventura in 1991.
The other candidate I got to know, John Kasich, seems to some pundits to be charting a course to run for president for the third time in 2020. In addition to last year, Kasich unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination in 2000, when George W. Bush was elected president.
In 1976, I first met the 23-year-old Kasich in Miami when Ronald Reagan, for whom he was working, was running for the presidential nomination that was won by Gerald Ford, the nonelected incumbent who lost to Jimmy Carter in November.
Extensive working experience
Kasich, who turned 65 on May 13, is the 69th and current governor of Ohio. First narrowly elected against incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland in 2010 and then re-elected by nearly a 2-1 margin in 2014, Kasich’s second term ends on Jan. 14, 2019, and he is unable to seek a third one because of Ohio’s term limits.
Before being elected governor, Kasich served nine terms — 1983 to 2001 — as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. His tenure included leadership on the House Armed Services Committee and the chairmanship of the House Budget Committee. He was a key figure in the passage of both the 1996 welfare reform legislation and the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, working closely with the Clinton administration and the U.S. Senate.
Kasich also worked as the managing director of the Lehman Brothers office in Columbus, an investment banking experience that he called on to help shape a remarkable economic turnaround for Ohio.
Relationship with Donald Trump
Though he has supported several of President Trump’s initiatives, Kasich refused to support Trump’s candidacy last fall, instead announcing he would be voting for U.S. Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee.
In recent months, Kasich has congratulated Trump on the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch as associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, supported the Trump decision to bomb Syria’s Assad regime for committing “war crimes that cannot be tolerated” and advocated a specific plan in support of adoption of a federal balanced budget amendment.
He has spoken his mind, too, in telling NPR that he has been shocked by “the kind of rhetoric and the negativity and the put-downs and the kind of acid that is being spilled out there in the public dialogue.”
The Ohio Governor has lamented the firing of FBI Director James Comey, calling his service “honorable,” and has been critical of deporting long-time undocumented immigrants — many with U.S. citizens as members of their families — preferring an earned pathway to American citizenship.
Prior to any American peace agreement with North Korea, Kasich has urged the removal of Kim Jong Un and his immediate Pyongyang inner circle. “Without Kim in power, North Korea will collapse in indecision, and the possibilities of peace in the region will be immediately enhanced.”
‘Two Paths: America Divided or United’
One of the reasons Kasich was recently included as No. 12 on Fortune Magazine’s top 50 world leaders list may have been the favorable buzz around his new book, “Two Paths: America Divided or United.” To date, Kasich has barnstormed the country and appeared on all the major television talk shows sharing his message.
The book, Kasich wrote, calls Americans “toward a more promising tomorrow.” He often uses three words — reason, purpose and togetherness — as tonic to help curb the current toxic political conditions.
Kasich sees a tendency toward “self-absorption” as he looks out into the country, and he wants to help turn it into something far more positive.
“I think you can judge a country by how often people rise above self-absorption to being concerned about somebody else. I think we all need to live a life a little bigger than ourselves.”
Making that change needs to “come from where we live” and go all the way to the top; “I don’t think politicians are getting this right.”
There is little doubt that Kasich is saddened when he views President Trump’s actions as dividing America. There are better paths, he asserts, and he hopes to help Americans find them in part by maintaining communications with a national network of thought leaders and supporters of his 2016 presidential bid.
Despite all of this, Kasich has said more than once that it is “very unlikely” that he will ever seek public office again, adding, “I’m not going to quiet my voice. My voice is going to be out there.”
Chuck Slocum is president of The Williston Group, a management-consulting firm; he is a former state chair of Minnesota Republicans and was once executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership. He can be reached at Chuck@WillistonGroup.Com.
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