Opinion

Opinion | Rachelle G. Cohen

Will a search for virtue lead John Kasich back into presidential politics?

Boston, MA - May 23, 2018: Ohio Governor John R. Kasich during a Editorial Board meeting at the Boston Globe in Boston, MA on May 23, 2018. (Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff) section: metro reporter:
Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff
Governor John Kasich during an editorial board meeting at the Boston Globe on May 23, 2018.

He speaks about virtue and “moral imperatives,” and even about God, like some sort of latter-day philosopher-king. Yes, Ohio’s governor John Kasich was always rather different — certainly during the 2016 Republican presidential primary and even more so now, in what he calls his “constant evolutionary mode.”

With seven months left in his gubernatorial term, and in a nation where more than half of voters polled believe their country is on the “wrong track,” Kasich continues to search for his place in its political future.

“Maybe I can change my party,” he told Boston Globe reporters and editors at a recent meeting. “But if my party stays anti-immigrant, anti-trade . . . divisive, that’s a challenge for me.”

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Mind you, he’s just as critical of the Democratic Party.

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“Where are the Democrats on DACA [the so-called Dreamers bill]?” he asks. “They collapsed like a house of cards.”

So it’s really an indictment of our current polarized two-party system that he’s serving up. “The parties don’t offer . . . hope, they offer . . . division,” he says. Just in case anyone has missed his point, he continues: “It’s both parties that are screwed up.” He launches into a somewhat long and tortured metaphor about a “red store” and a “blue store” in the neighborhood with “nothing on the shelves” and “then a third store opens up.”

It’s as close as Kasich would get to going down that long, winding path to a possible third party candidacy. That’s a path often pondered, occasionally executed, and rarely successful, the pre-Civil War emergence of the Republican Party being one of those rare exceptions.

But then again, does Kasich and his Party of the Virtuous — or whatever — really want to risk being the next George Wallace (winner of five Southern states) and thus aiding the re-election in 2020 of Donald Trump?

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What Kasich does have — and proved during his unsuccessful 2016 GOP primary campaign — is a brand of stubborn resilience born of that moral fiber he’s (perhaps a bit too) fond of talking about. After coming in second in the New Hampshire primary, second in Massachusetts (to Trump’s 49 percent), and winning only his home state of Ohio in March, Kasich hung in the GOP race until May 4.

Unlike, say, that profile in courage, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who put his presidential ambitions in a box the day after New Hampshire, rapidly followed by his manhood later that month with his Trump endorsement. (Yes, as the woman who crafted the Boston Herald’s pre-New Hampshire endorsement of Christie, I’m still grumpy.)

Kasich, who can be alternately preachy and prickly, insists that “moral imperatives matter.” Or as he told graduates of Harvard’s Kennedy School in his commencement address last week, “If you search the Old and New Testaments you will find that it’s about compassion, about humility and forgiveness, but most of all, it’s about living a life that’s bigger than ourselves.”

What that next phase of life looks like for the 66-year-old about-to-be ex-governor is far from clear.

“Most of the great movements in the history of our country don’t come from politics,” he said while at the Globe.

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It’s just hard for a man who has devoted much of his life to that world to walk away.

Rachelle G. Cohen, former editorial page editor of the Boston Herald, is a contributing member of the Globe’s editorial board.