Don Juan of Florida and the Old Pro
The spotlight is a solvent, and under its glare the muddled water of the Republican nomination fight becomes clear. Even now, we can state with some assurance that only two of the candidates remain viable, while the rest are residue.
The three media candidates, Trump, Fiorina, and Carson, were never really in it. In 2016, the most auspicious political year for Republicans since 1920, the party will not nominate a candidate who has never won public office. The tweet campaigns of these candidates is just one sign of their triviality. They are personality and protest candidates, with no record in office and no hope of winning. The nomination will not be awarded to a rookie without a track record in office.
The serious candidates are Christie, Cruz, Bush 3, Kasich, and Rubio. Christie's going nowhere, and neither is Jeb! Bush 3 has the money to hang around for a while, but he does not have the gravitas, the vision, or the political skill to win this nomination. He has, at last, owned up that he is a Bush, and this admission will fade him into oblivion. There is a substantial majority within the Republican Party adamantly opposed to another Bush, and they're not going to change their minds.
With their debate performances, Cruz and Rubio have competed for the insurgent, Tea Party, hard-right wing of the party, and Rubio has won a decisive victory. It isn't close. He is, quite simply, far more appealing than the stiff and robotic Texan, who can't help but look and sound like a fancy lawyer arguing before an appellate court. Aside from his marvelous speaking skills, Rubio has the persona of a Latino Reagan. The more people see of him, the more they like him, especially women.
The final round between Rubio and Kasich will decide the nomination. It is a contest between a show horse and a work horse. Kasich cannot compare to Rubio in God-given political talent, but he can compete on his record. All but an insignificant fraction of voters have any idea of what Kasich has accomplished, and they will be impressed when they are made aware of it.
In the Democratic landslide of 1982, with Reagan at the nadir of his popularity and 11% unemployment, Kasich, then just 31, was the only Republican in the country to knock off an incumbent Democrat congressman. He'd met Reagan at the '76 convention and ran as an unapologetic Reagan man. He remained a Reagan man in his entire eighteen years in Congress.
The federal budget, and deficits, were a very serious concern in the '80s and '90s, and, even though in the minority, Kasich rolled up his sleeves and went to work. With a small cadre of staff and colleagues, he produced alternative budgets to the Democratic majority. At first they received little attention, but over time, the ideas he was promoting became the position of the House minority. When they achieved majority status in 1994, and he was promoted over more senior colleagues to the chairmanship of the Budget Committee, Kasich's work was the basis of the balanced budgets that were passed in the late '90s. Even with a Democrat in the White House, Kasich and the Republicans accomplished the unheard of. The federal government spent less than it took in.
His service on the Armed Services Committee gave him the background in military and foreign affairs every commander in chief should have. He waged war on Pentagon waste, but he never wavered in his commitment to the Reagan expansion of the military that brought the Soviets to their knees.
After a quixotic run for the presidency in 2000, Kasich returned to Ohio, with his second wife and their two young daughters. He joined Lehman Brothers, where he immersed himself in the world of finance and commerce. Elected governor in 2010, he turned the state around, erasing massive deficits, cutting taxes, and promoting private-sector growth. He was re-elected in a landslide in this critical swing state, a state that no Republican can win the presidency without. He accepted the "free" federal Medicaid money because he believed that doing so was in the best interest of the people he represented. That's what politicians do. His knowledge of the Ohio state budget allowed him to take this action in a clear conscience. Ohio will, in the future, pay for this program without federal help. That's what he, as governor, believed was consistent with Ohio values. Reagan made similar decisions when he was governor of California. Other states, with other values, have rejected the Medicaid expansion. That's what federalism is all about. As president, he will not impose his values on the country. As an ardent federalist, he will leave such decisions to the States and the people.
Barring a black swan, a Republican will win the presidency next year. Who can envy the winner, with such an enormous task ahead of him? It's a very big and complicated job. Turning this country around will take a skilled politician at the very top of his game.
Experience would help.
Fritz Pettyjohn is a former member of the Alaska Legislature and a co-founder of the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force. He blogs at ReaganProject.com.