As a kid, John Kasich stepped off a sandbar in Lake Erie and nearly drowned, leaving him fearful of the water. To remedy that, his mother paid for swimming lessons, but just being in the YMCA pool made him hyperventilate, so he skipped out and practiced his pinball instead.
Only after watching the 2016 Summer Olympics did Kasich, now 64, really try swimming again. He’s improved enough that, his informal coach tells him, the pool-side observers who chuckle as their governor flails away in the H2O will soon have to find other amusements.
“I’m not great at it, but I’m so encouraged by it,” Kasich says, seeming genuinely pleased. “And,” he jokes of his thrashing style, “I’ve never had such aerobic activity in my lifetime.”
The Ohio governor, former GOP presidential candidate, and apostle of positive politics is back in the swim in another way, with a new book — “Two Paths: America Divided or United” — that’s part campaign memoir and part reflection on the hyper-partisan maladies besetting American public life. So what advice does Kasich, who went from a narrow victory in his first gubernatorial campaign to a landslide reelection in 2014, have for someone else who’s over his head and flailing badly about? That is, Donald Trump.
“You’ve gotta work to unify the country,” Kasich said in a sit-down on Wednesday.
As it happens, during a February meeting at the White House, Kasich offered Trump some face-to-face advice, based on an adjuration from his wife early in his first term as governor, when he was comporting himself as an aggressive, headstrong wiseacre. Karen, he recalls, said: “You know, John, you’re actually the father of Ohio. Why don’t you act like it?”
“It was so true,” he says. “I needed to figure out how to bring people together.”
Trump’s reaction to that repurposed pearl of wifely wisdom?
“He just listened.”
Kasich has also weighed in on health care, though to little avail, at least so far. His bottom line on the GOP efforts to repeal or rework the Affordable Care Act? “You just can’t strip health care coverage from the mentally ill, the drug-addicted, and the chronically ill and think that you’ve solved something,” he says.
Would Kasich have done more to reach out to the other side?
“I absolutely would have done it,” he says, introducing that comment this way: “I have had a lot of people say . . . ‘I wish you had been there, because you would have brought the country together.’ ”
Kasich neither endorsed nor supported Trump last year. He didn’t even attend the Republican National Convention, though it took place in the Buckeye State. So: Is this book tour a signal he’s open to mounting a GOP primary challenge to Trump in 2020?
“This is not a campaign kick-start book,” he answers. “I am going to have to feel an unbelievable call to duty to run for any public office again. Is that possible? I guess it’s possible.”
But no, he says, his book “is not designed to say . . . ” — and then he gets distracted from his demurral. “By the way, I am going to New Hampshire, so that will cause people to even ask it more,” he notes. But then, New Hampshire plays prominently into his book and the story it tells, he says. (Everybody clear?)
So what to make of all this? Well, let’s call it John Kasich’s keep-your-profile-high-and-your-options-open-and-see-what-happens tour. After all, as Morris Udall once observed, there’s really only one cure for Potomac Fever:
Embalming fluid.Scot Lehigh can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GlobeScotLehigh.