John Kasich is having his presidential moment. Buoyed by a strong performance in the first GOP debate and an obsessive campaign focus on New Hampshire, which has propelled him into second place in recent Granite State polls, Kasich is now being talked about as a first tier presidential candidate.
Kasich is also getting a boost from journalists and pundits alike, enchanted by his lack of anger and alleged moderation. Kasich, you see, believes climate change is real, supports the Common Core educational standards, sounds un-Trump-like on immigration and, perhaps above all, brags about his expansion of Medicaid (a key element of Obamacare) in his home state of Ohio.
Last month, the liberal website Vox ran a long, glowing portrayal of Kasich for his advocacy on Medicaid as a "Christian moral imperative," and The New York Times quoted, approvingly, Kasich's claim that he is "animated" by the "people in the shadows" such as those with "mental illness, developmental disabilities, and in at-risk minority communities."
There is, however, one group missing from these "shadow people" — women seeking to exercise their reproductive rights. For all of Kasich's supposed moderation, he is one of the most extreme antiabortion politician in America. Such views, however, seem to have little impact on Kasich's moderate image.
Consider that, since Kasich took office in 2011, he has signed into law 16 antiabortion measures. These include a ban on abortions after 20 weeks; a mandatory ultrasound for women having abortions in clinics that receive state funding; and a provision in the state's budget bill that prevents rape crisis counselors from providing women with information about abortion services. Onerous regulations on abortion providers have led half the abortion clinics in the state to shut down. All of this would seem to reflect Kasich's "Christian moral imperative" too.
While Kasich says that he supports abortion exceptions in cases involving rape, incest, or where the life of the mother is in danger, in reality, he has likely placed as many restrictions on abortion rights as any other Republican running for president.
It's not just on reproductive rights where Kasich's "moderation" is being oversold. He might have pushed for Medicaid expansion, but he's hardly the only Republican governor to have done so. Considering the fiscal benefits to Medicaid expansion — and with the federal government initially picking up the tab — Kasich's support for the measure is about more than helping poor people. And though Scott Walker has become the poster child for the GOP's assault on labor rights, Kasich also pushed legislation stripping public sector unions in Ohio of their collective bargaining rights — only to have the move up-ended by a ballot initiative in which 60 percent of Ohio voters went against their governor.
But it's on abortion where Kasich's views are the most out of the mainstream, bear little relationship to his moderate image, and seem to be the ones he least wants to discuss. Last month, two GOP lawmakers in Ohio introduced a bill banning abortions in cases in which a fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome. Kasich has so far been mum about whether he will sign the legislation.
It's a curious phenomenon in that when we define political extremism in America, radicalism when it comes to reproductive rights is somehow given a pass.
Donald Trump is correctly described as an extremist because of his racist comments about immigrants; but at the same time he's actually said positive things about Planned Parenthood and it's efforts to help women (that don't involve abortion). Kasich, as governor, cut Planned Parenthood's funding in Ohio by $1.4 million.
When it comes to allowing women to have control of their bodies; to not be forced to endure unnecessary medical procedures and burdensome restrictions in order to exercise their constitutional right to abortion; and to make personal moral decisions about their reproductive rights, Kasich is, no matter what his apologists might say, very much a political extremist.
Michael A. Cohen's column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.