When John Kasich launches his presidential candidacy at Ohio State University on Tuesday, it seems safe to say the Ohio governor won’t suddenly become the favorite candidate of the Republican base. Erick Erickson, the RedState.com editor, has called him “a bully”; Steve Deace, a conservative radio host in Iowa, calls his candidacy “a non-starter for conservatives.” The conservative health-policy expert Avik Roy, writing in National Review, said last year, “The chances of John Kasich marrying Kate Upton are higher than the chances of John Kasich contending for the GOP nomination.”
Kasich’s transgressions against conservative orthodoxy are many. He supports the Common Core educational standards, which the right loathes; he says he would consider allowing undocumented immigrants to become citizens; his state budgets have cut a lot of taxes, but raised others; and spending has increased on his watch. Conservatives’ primary complaint is that Kasich singlehandedly accepted the Obamacare-Medicaid expansion for his state, thus making him complicit in the most loathed policy of the loathed Democratic president.
But Kasich’s heresy is bigger than these specific ideological transgressions. It is tonal—he has golfed with Obama and generally declines to attack the president personally; he has justified his Medicaid decision on the basis of Christian compassion for the poor. And it is philosophical—Kasich is witheringly dismissive of the anti-government absolutists in his own party. “There's a sort of fantasy out there, or a myth, that we can just cut all the government and that'll give us our lower taxes,” he told me when I visited him in Ohio in February for a profile I was writing. “It doesn't work that way. You can't just get rid of all these programs and say, ‘People, just spontaneously do it!’”