New Hampshire Republicans can do their party a critical service on Feb. 9 by voting for an experienced political figure with a record of results, and thus dealing a blow to the divisive, demagogic candidates running on nativism and other political simplicities.
The Globe urges them to support John Kasich, whose record as governor of Ohio shows him to be a pragmatic, fiscally responsible executive, but one who is also concerned with helping the poor. His success in that important swing state, and his record as a moderate conservative who is willing to compromise in pursuit of results, suggests he is the Republican hopeful most likely to be successful on the national stage.
By voting for Kasich, New Hampshire can reward a candidate whose politics have been largely positive — and rebuke those candidates who have spent their campaign appealing to voters’ fears and biases.
Of those, Donald Trump has easily been the worst. Once known primarily for his reality TV show, Trump has exploited anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment to build a populist campaign that polls show attracts a hard-core segment of Republican voters. He wants to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, and temporarily forbid Muslims from entering the country.
His bigotry is toxic — and it requires a resounding electoral defeat.
Unlike some of his competitors, Kasich entered the 2016 race little-known outside his native Ohio, which he served as a congressman and then, after a decade-long break from politics, where he was elected governor in 2010 and reelected in 2014. He has a record of pragmatic Midwestern conservatism, and has demonstrated an aptitude for the horse-trading and coalition-building that’s so lacking in today’s Washington. (It’s no small irony that one of Kasich’s finest accomplishments as a congressman — joining the bipartisan deal to impose a 10-year ban on assault weapons — is one that he barely mentions now.)
As governor since 2011, Kasich has had a mixed record. He picked an unproductive fight with the state’s labor unions, which ended in political humiliation for the governor, but backed body cameras on police. He snubbed the Obama administration’s offer of $400 million for high-speed rail service between Cleveland and Cincinnati, but broke with virtually every other Republican by accepting the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare. That decision, in particular, showed considerable independence: Scorched-earth opposition to Obamacare has been a litmus test for many conservatives. He’s also departed from Republican orthodoxy by resisting calls to require photo identification to vote, a measure that disproportionately affects minority and low-income voters.
Kasich, who is banking on a strong showing in New Hampshire to vault him into the top tier of candidates, has also been an important voice of sanity in this year’s field. He has forcefully called out opponents like Ben Carson and Trump for what he describes as “fantasy tax schemes.” While some of his competitors have tried to avoid tangling with Trump, Kasich has said, truthfully, that the idea of deporting 11 million illegal immigrants is completely unrealistic, no matter how much it might please the GOP base.
Kasich has a reputation as someone who can occasionally get brusque and tetchy when criticized or questioned, which is not a quality that serves a president well. On the other hand, Democrats who knew him in Congress considered him collegial and willing to compromise. And his strong gubernatorial reelection results — he won 64 percent of the vote — show that whatever his temperamental shortcomings, he’s not a polarizing figure.
Roughly speaking, Kasich is competing for the same pool of voters as New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie, Florida senator Marco Rubio, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush. (Former CEO Carly Fiorina briefly looked like a viable candidate in the sanity bracket, but has faded in polls.) There’s a good chance that whichever of those four men performs best in New Hampshire — even if he doesn’t come in first overall — will emerge as leader of the party’s reality-based wing, and will then shoulder the responsibility for going head-to-head with Trump or Cruz.
Republicans need to ask themselves: Who do they want leading that fight into Super Tuesday and beyond? Bush, a credible and accomplished executive, is hobbled by the legacy of his brother, former president George W. Bush, and hasn’t been able to translate his policy smarts into passion on the trail. Christie is a sitting duck for negative ads, thanks to his bridge scandal and unpresidential demeanor. Rubio can come across as a flip-flopper on policy.
Republicans can pine for a choice that doesn’t exist — noncandidate Mitt Romney recently led a hypothetical poll of New Hampshire voters — but the GOP ballot is what it is. The New Hampshire primary historically serves to winnow down the field, and that has never been more important than it is this year. The GOP needs to settle on one candidate to take the fight to Trump and Cruz, and Kasich is the best bet.