Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is trying to leverage his second-place finish in the New Hampshire Republican primary to a nationally viable presidential candidacy, has one thing his competitors lack: a fistful of newspaper endorsements.
The New York Times called Kasich "the only plausible choice for Republicans tired of the extremism and inexperience on display in this race." The Boston Globe contrasted Kasich with "the divisive, demagogic candidates running on nativism and other political simplicities," and suggested that he might well become the "leader of the party's reality-based wing." More in that vein from The Keene Sentinel, Quad-City Times, and Concord Monitor, the latter of which adds—with more hope than evidence—that, "On national security, Kasich is more alliance-builder than hawk."
So about that. At the Feb. 6 debate in Manchester, NH, moderator Martha Raddatz pointed out that North Korea had reportedly just tested an intercontinental ballistic missile, and then she asked a series of candidates whether they would "destroy that missile pre-emptively on the launch pad." Eventually Raddatz came to the Ohioan: "Governor Kasich, how would you respond to tonight's launch?"
"Well, we've got to step up the pressure," the governor said. "We have to make sure that we intercept both the ships and their aircraft." While falling short of pre-emptively bombing a country within its borders, the former House Armed Services Committee member did say he would encourage Japan to do that particular dirty work for us if they so choose. Also, militarily intercepting ships and aircraft against their will is often considered by owners of said vessels as an act of war. But such is the price of the Kasich Doctrine. "We cannot," he concluded, "continue to be weak in the face of the North Koreans, or, frankly, in the entire rest of the world."
For instance, Iran. At the Jan. 28 debate in Des Moines, Kasich volunteered the possibility of pre-emptive war against the Mullahs. "If we find out they're developing a nuclear weapon and we know how to get to it, we're going to go take it out," he declared. "That is what we have to do. We cannot let things get farther down the road, like we did with North Korea."
Kasich has been saying for a year now that the United States needs another major land war in the Middle East, to wipe out ISIS. "We have to go massively, like we did in the first Gulf War where we destroyed Saddam's ability to take Kuwait," he said at the Dec. 15 debate in Las Vegas. "We need to have a coalition that will stand for nothing less than the total destruction of ISIS and we have to be the leader. We can't wait for anybody else."
As for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, well, he "has to go," Kasich says. "We need to support the opposition in Syria, remove al-Assad," he told NPR in November. Obviously, that requires enforcing a no-fly zone in Syrian airspace, which even National Review writers acknowledge may well lead to a mild shooting war with Russia. Though that may be the point: "Frankly, it's time that we punched the Russians in the nose," Kasich said in Vegas.
So why are all these newspapers portraying a candidate with such a bellicose foreign policy as a reality-based "moderate"? Most every endorsement cites Kasich's expansion of Medicaid in Ohio, over the objections of national conservative activists. This has roughly squat to do with what the next president of the United States will face. Meanwhile foreign policy, and particularly the waging of war, will continue to be the area where commanders in chief arguably have the most latitude. As with John McCain in 2008, editorial boards are confusing inconsistently applied moderation (read: sporadic departures from standard-fare Republican positions and anti-Democratic rhetoric) with an actually even-keel approach to the most important part of his prospective job.
John Kasich wants the feds in your cell phone, and without you knowing about it. He thinks one key in winning the long war against Islamic terrorists is propagandizing in favor of "Judeo-Christian Western values." He wants to ban Syrian refugees from entering the United States, punish countries who "dump product in this country," and thinks failed banks should be bailed out. He is terrible and incoherent about the failed drug war, has active anger-management issues, and once tried to convert his hatred of the movie Fargo into action against Blockbuster. All of which will be held against him if and when political journalists start looking any deeper than he's-not-as-crazy-sounding-as-those-other-guys.
But the crazy has been right there all along in this campaign, particularly on foreign policy. After the jump, read one of the single most spectacularly incoherent word-salads in this entire presidential campaign, from the Nov. 10 debate in Milwaukee:
GERARD BAKER: I want to ask you about China. In particular, hundreds of American companies have been subjected to cyberattacks from the Chinese military, yet state-backed Chinese companies, growing their presence in the United States, Chinese investments in U.S., which were nearly nonexistent a few years ago, are now over $50 billion. And as my newspaper recently reported, Chinese companies are planning to bid for one of the largest hotel chains in the United States, what would be the largest ever Chinese takeover of a U.S. company. Would you stop them?
KASICH: Let me tell you this, Mr. Baker, in terms of the cyberattacks, we have the capability to not only have a defensive posture, but it also to make it clear to people that if you attack us with cyberattacks, we will destroy the mechanisms that you are using to attack us.
I want to give you a little trip around the world. I served on the Defense Committee for 18 years. In the Ukraine, arm the people there so they can fight for themselves. In the eastern part of Europe, make sure that Finland and the Baltics know that if the Russians move, we move. In Syria, yes, a no-fly zone in the north on the Turkish border, a no-fly zone on the south on the Jordanian border. Anybody flies in the first time, maybe they can fly out. They fly in there a second time, they will not fly out. And it also becomes a sanctuary for the people to be. And it also sends many messages in the Middle East that we're still involved.
Saudi Arabia, cut off the funding for the radical clerics, the ones that preach against us. But they're fundamentally our friends. Jordan, we want the king to reign for 1,000 years. Egypt, they have been our ally and a moderating force in the Middle East throughout their history. In the groups—in the countries of the Gulf states of Bahrain, the Cleveland Clinic is opening an operation. Clearly we see the same with them. And in Israel, we have no better ally in the world, and no more criticizing them in public, we should support them.
And finally China. China doesn't own the South China Sea, and I give the president some credit for being able to move a naval force in there to let the Chinese know that we're not going to put up with it any more. And in the trade agreement, the TPP, it's critical to us, not only for economic reasons and for jobs, because there are so many people who are connected to getting jobs because of trade, but it allows us to create not only economy alliances, but also potentially strategic alliances against the Chinese. They are not our enemy, but they are certainly not our friend.
And finally, I will say to everyone in this room, we have been talking about taxes and economics. When the fall comes, and we run against Hillary, which will be a disaster if she got elected. I have two 16-year-old girls, and I want this country to be strong. We make promises we can't keep under the bright light of the fall, we will have trouble. We must make sure that economic programs and our military programs are solid.
I served in Washington as the chairman of the Budget Committee, and we got the budget balanced. And in Ohio, as the CEO, and guess what, we have got to have a CEO mentality and a way to beat Hillary Clinton and the Democracies in the fall. And our ideas have to add up. They have to be solid. And people have to know we have the confidence to lead America.
And as president, I will lead this country, as I have before in Washington and in Ohio, and will return both on domestic and international affairs.
Enjoy your rational moderate, editorial boards!