Gov. John Kasich’s exit from the Republican presidential campaign raises a lot of questions about his personal future and the future of his party.
When Kasich dropped out of the race, he thanked everyone, including Ohioans.
“The people of Ohio have given me the greatest professional experience of my lifetime.”
But there was a lot Kasich didn’t say. He didn’t mention his opponents, including Donald Trump, the Republican who is now being considered the apparent nominee by the party. And Kasich didn’t announce his immediate intentions or his plans as Governor of the Buckeye State. But Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor says don’t read too much into that.
“He is the Governor of the State of Ohio and has been. Sometimes his travels took him outside the state of Ohio but he always had his finger on the pulse. He knows what’s going on in our state. He knew the important policy decisions that he was continuing to make and be a part of so no, I’m not surprised that he didn’t say ‘I’m looking forward to being back.’ He’s been the Governor.”
Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges says Kasich will play a key role in the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, even if he’s no longer a candidate.
“Well let’s face it. John Kasich’s campaign has always been about unity and has been about bringing people together so I don’t think it will be any different now. He’s going to have to digest the events over the next several days. We’ll give him the time and space to do that. And when he’s ready, I’m sure he’s going to be in Cleveland with us for the convention and will be doing great work for the citizens of Ohio and will continue to move our state forward.”
But as Kasich comes back to Ohio, he faces a new challenge – how to unify his party. The majority of the state’s Republicans supported him in the presidential race – Ohio’s was the only primary he won. And now, while Kasich will be the top office holder of Ohio again, the standard bearer for the national party will likely be Donald Trump, someone who is very different than Kasich. Trump has been the subject of scorn and disdain among many key Ohioans, including state office holders, who supported Kasich. Some, including Auditor Dave Yost, have said they will not campaign for Trump. So Kasich will be playing a key role in attempts to bring Republicans back together to support Trump in the fall….and the down ticket races too….like the re-election of Republican US Senator Rob Portman. Some party leaders who have been very critical of Trump in the past are already at the point where they are able to unify. Tracey Winbush, one of the party’s leading office holders, has been critical of Trump on her Northeast Ohio radio show, but she says she’s ready to put that past her in order to keep the Democrats out of the presidency and support Portman.
“We’ve got a candidate we’ve got to support. And if we don’t support them and we don’t unify, we’re going to lose.”
Party unity won’t be the only challenge facing Kasich in the coming months. University of Cincinnati Political Science Professor David Niven says it might be tough for Kasich to transition back into his role as Ohio’s Governor.
“Being governor has been something as an afterthought for Gov. Kasich and you even saw it all the way through his State of the State speech which was held literally the last in the nation, the last of 50 governors to get to that speech because he was busy running for president. And that speech didn’t lay out much of an agenda for him when he came back to Ohio. So it’s really kind of an open question of what does he intend to do with two years still left as governor and to what extent is he going to get enmeshed in the politics of Ohio as people’s attention turns to who is going to be the next governor.”
Meanwhile, the head of Ohio’s Democratic Party, David Pepper, says he’s hoping the kind, gentle persona Kasich embodied on the presidential campaign trail will be evident now as he comes back to govern Ohio.
“There are many opportunities for him to show, not just through the tone of what he says but through actual policy changes, “I am different, I have a different approach and I want to get things done.” And right now, there’s so many issues to deal with that he can do that with. And so I think it’s sort of a moment where we can see, was it all rhetoric to try to win votes or did he actually really change like he’s saying he did, into a different public servant.”
Pepper says he’s hoping Kasich will prod Ohio lawmakers to fix congressional redistricting, give more control and funds back to local communities and do more to fix the state’s charter and public schools.