John Kasich Is a Man Without a Party

The former Ohio governor won’t vote for Donald Trump next year. But he’s not sold on the Democrats either.

Elizabeth Frantz / Reuters

For the moment, it seems, John Kasich isn’t happy with pretty much anyone.

Of the 16 Republican primary candidates Donald Trump vanquished on his way to the White House in 2016, the former Ohio governor is one of the few who has not since come around on the president. Kasich passed on a rematch in 2020 out of a recognition that the GOP is now Trump’s party, but he has said he won’t vote for the president next year. And he’s not backing any of Trump’s three Republican challengers, nor is he sold on any of the Democrats who debated on Tuesday in the state Kasich led for two terms before leaving office in January. “I didn’t say I was voting for them either,” Kasich told me in a phone interview on Tuesday.

“I’m disappointed with my Republican Party right now, and the fact that it’s become too negative,” he said. “But I’m also not happy with the hard-left positions of those that want to build bigger governments and more bureaucracies.”

Kasich has a book out this week, It’s Up to Us: Ten Little Ways We Can Bring About Big Change, that champions bottom-up activism, encouraging people to turn to their communities instead of Washington to uplift the country. Curiously, nearly all of the luminaries Kasich quotes for inspiration—Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, and Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate-change activist—are associated with the left. (“I could have quoted Ronald Reagan. I just didn’t,” Kasich told me by way of explanation.)

On impeachment, Kasich is similarly unsatisfied. He backs the impeachment inquiry launched by House Democrats last month, but he faults House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for resisting a formal vote to start the process. “It shouldn’t be done with all these committees running around,” Kasich told me. “There ought to be some rules.”

Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Russell Berman: Your book is a call for bottom-up activism, and for people to focus on their local communities. Have you given up on Washington?

John Kasich: Great change—social change, political change—doesn’t come from the top down. It comes from the citizens up to the top, not the other way around. So am I giving up on Washington? No, but I think we need to realize that we as people are in charge of what ultimately happens in this country—and not just in political dimensions. Social change comes from people who work in their communities to live a life a little bigger than themselves and to connect with others.

Berman: Many if not all of the people you quote for inspiration at the beginning of chapters or cite as positive examples are associated, in one way or another, with the political left. What does that say about the Republican Party and its support, or lack thereof, for activism? Where are the examples of Republican or conservative inspiration?

Kasich: I could have quoted Ronald Reagan. I just didn’t. I don’t think that bottom-up [activism] is a monopoly of liberals. If you look at Teddy Roosevelt—I guess I could have quoted him—there’s a guy who was as bottom-up and as populist as anybody you can think of in the 20th century. Some just jump out at you, or what they had to say fit the chapter. But look, I’m disappointed with my Republican Party right now, and the fact that it’s become too negative. But I’m also not happy with the hard-left positions of those that want to build bigger governments and more bureaucracies.

Berman: You’ve said that you didn’t vote for Trump in 2016. You don’t intend to vote for him next year. So of the Democrats who are running, are there any who—

Kasich: I didn’t say I was voting for them either.

Berman: But of those running, are there any you could see yourself supporting?

Kasich: I’m not going to get into who I’m going to support in the Democrat primary. Let’s let it all work itself out, and then I can tell you.

Berman: Who do you think was a better president: Barack Obama or Donald Trump?

Kasich: [Laughs] I’m not getting into that. This book is not about that. This book is about bottom-up [activism]. Comparing Obama and Trump—you’re not going to get me into a trick box here. I’m not going down that rabbit hole, sorry.

Berman: Based on what you’ve seen and read so far, where does Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian leader rank among the things that he has done that concern you?

Kasich: It’s right there at the top. I don’t like a president—any president, Republican, Democrat, independent—calling up a political leader in another country and saying, ‘Hey, investigate my political opponent.’ I think it’s improper. It’s not just improper; it’s a terrible thing that he did.

Berman: What are your views on impeachment?

Kasich: I think there should be a full inquiry. It should be open, it should be transparent, and let the chips fall where they may. There should be a vote on the impeachment inquiry. It shouldn’t be done with all these committees running around. There ought to be some rules.

Berman: Have you seen enough evidence yet to cause you to support actual articles of impeachment?

Kasich: No. That’s why I want to have an inquiry.

Berman: Some of the Democrats think that what is already out there is enough to impeach now.

Kasich: Because they said it, so what? I’m just telling you my feeling. Get through the inquiry, and once I can see all the facts and see how they want to go forward, then I could give you a good answer. It’s like we’re in the middle of a mystery movie, and I don’t know how the end’s going to come. Because a lot of times we’re surprised.

Impeachment is a very serious matter, and if you don’t treat it the right way, it becomes less important over time. So I want them to proceed in a way that respects the fact that people elected this man. If you’re going to remove him, you better have some very good evidence and some real reasons to remove him.

Berman: Is there anything that President Trump has done that has surprised you in a positive way?

Kasich: I like the deregulation. Largely the deregulation of the economy has helped to create a stronger economy. I think that’s the best thing that he’s done. But that, too, can go too far if you’re not careful.

Berman: Some Republicans clearly think that these policy wins are worth putting up with some of the other stuff that the president is doing. You would disagree?

Kasich: Well, obviously, since I’m not going to vote for him.