John Kasich

Republican Dignity

Air Date: January 25, 2019

Former Ohio Governor John Kasich discusses preserving the Republican Party.


I’m Alexander Heffner, your host on The Open Mind. Today we’re honored to welcome Ohio Governor and former 2016 Republican presidential candidate John Kasich, a longtime congressman, chairman of the Budget Committee and member of the Armed Services Committee. Kasich was the chief architect of the 1990s deficit-ending deal that ushered into the new millennium, a clean fiscal bill of health for the nation. Today of course, Kasich is better known as the two term Governor of Ohio, who’s presided over recovery from the great recession, a critic of Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric, nativism, protectionism, and personal conduct unbecoming a president of the United States that have debased the highest office in the land. Welcome Governor. Pleasure to see you again.

KASICH: Good to be with you.

HEFFNER: We have a saying on this program at the end. Keep an open mind, but I’ve added to it now, keep an open mind but not so open that your brains fall out.

Have the Republican Party’s brains splattered on the floor away from TR and Lincoln and the saints of Republicans.

KASICH: I think you’re seeing is a worldwide phenomenon now that we see. And it’s, I think the fact that there’s a number of people who just feel as though no one gets them, no one cares about them. Now the Republican Party is a little bit different. There are those people who kind of joined the party and supported Trump and then there are your traditional Republicans, but you know, we’ve become pretty much tribal in terms of our politics. So if you’re a Democrat, you go Democrat, if you’re a Republican, you go Republican. But we’re starting to see somewhat of a breakdown of that where you’re seeing, at least in the midterm election, Republicans who either stayed at home or Republicans who actually voted for a Democrat candidate, not maybe not so much because they liked the Democrat, but it was a way for them to register a protest vote against you know, the negative mood of the country.

But you look all over the world and there’s this rise of populism and its if you even look in France right now and you see the yellow vests and that is about, hey, all you folks over here, the establishment rich people, you know, you don’t care about us. We’re out here. We’re struggling to make a living and people need to talk to them and they need to not just talk to them, but show that they’re a very important part of our culture. So like, kind of what you know, in a funny sort of way it’s like what we did in Ohio where Republicans did quite well, I mean in Illinois, they lost everything; Wisconsin and they were beaten bad, same in Michigan, Pennsylvania. But in Ohio, virtually all the Republicans won.

And I attach that largely to the fact that the state is doing better, but maybe as important is that no one was left behind. So if you’re concerned about the environment, you have a place with us. If you are concerned about a son or a daughter who has autism, we’re involved, if you have somebody who’s disabled, if you have somebody who’s mentally ill or drug addicted or a member of the minority community, there’s a space for you, for everybody and so it was a top to down, a top to down sort of implementation of policy that left no one behind. I think that’s what people are hungering for today. They are just not so sure anybody really cares about them.

HEFFNER: So I think you’re saying that the Republican Party can be saved potentially.

KASICH: And I have push back in my own state from members of the legislature, but if you want to be successful as a party, you can’t be successful when you don’t attract young people, women, minorities, millennia…. you know, how are you going to win?

So, and it’s not about winning. I mean that’s a boring thing for me. The issue is your policies. Are they inclusive? Are they hopeful? Are they uplifting? Because if they’re not then and if they’re narrow, if they’re divisive and you know, the party has been kind of lurching that way and that’s not healthy or good. Now can they change? I don’t know. There are stories that say that they don’t even want to take a look at why they had such a terrible midterm. But you know, I do my thing and spread my message and we’ll see what happens.

HEFFNER: What would a corrective course look like to you? If there is an infection in the party, how do you.

KASICH: First of all, you know, let’s think, let’s realize Alex, that you know, in our country historically, change doesn’t come from the top down. Change comes from the bottom up.

So if you think about civil rights, even the Kennedys ran away from it. It’s too hot politically for them. It took; it took the churches both in the south, of course, the rise of Martin Luther King, people in the north to bring about a pressure that drove change from the bottom up. Same was true in ending the Vietnam War. The same is true in women’s suffrage. So I think that we have to realize that change emanates with us so that we’re important that we’re valuable. I just read a story the other day about people now who have are kind of minor shareholders in some of these tech companies. Now they’re beginning to file things with the boards, they are beginning to realize, hey, I have a say. So there is a yearning for people to really be impactful. But a party that would say let’s just take a couple of issues, you know, border separation, family separation at the border, bad idea, terrible idea, a horrible idea. The need to control border, of course you can’t just let people walk in. But the policies now and the proposals, the programs now are really failing trade, you know, of course we want free trade, but to get into trade wars and, and just to, you know, to actually be declare yourself as the tariff president. I don’t think that’s a very smart thing. Either. Debt, we got $21 trillion dollar debt, you know, the Republican Party traditionally worries about debt. So, I mean there’s a number of things we can do, but most important is the mood, the mood that a president or a leader can project because, and the mood has to be sincere, it can’t be phony, and that mood is one of, hey, if you’ve got a problem, we want to help you, if you have a problem, we’ll figure out a way to give you a lift. That’s, I think what we need to do. If you’re a small businessperson, we’re not going to ignore you have you go bankrupt. If you’re wealthy, we’re not going to punish you but there is an element of equality income, equality that or inequality that matters. I mean those are the things that I think that both parties have to think about. I’m not sure the Democrats are thinking … I think they become in too many cases extreme.

HEFFNER: So what do you think is on the mind of the New Hampshire voter? We were both there, you were running and I was based…

KASICH: Dispositions are on their mind.

HEFFNER: Those issues are on their mind.

KASICH: What about my job? What about my kid’s job? What about my wages? What about healthcare?

HEFFNER: You were a part of in the House, Ira Shapiro wrote a book, the “Last Great Senate.” It was about how bipartisanship and folks coming together with Kennedy and Dole, Baker, whole host of people on the Senate side who are committed to working through problems for the betterment of the country.

KASICH: I think there was a lot of partisanship back then too, but there were moments in time, which people could rise to a higher purpose. And I think that’s what we miss…

HEFFNER: I think you and Governor Hickenlooper have talked about rising to that.

KASICH: Well, look, I was in the House when we rose to a higher level, we’ve got the budget balanced. We paid down debt. I mean, it’s a remarkable achievement. We ended the production of a very expensive B-2 bomber at a much smaller number than what was originally thought of. That was another coalition. There are a lot of coalitions, what we do about corporate welfare, what we do about defense reform. I mean, there was a lot of things like that and there are moments in time when people would rise, but it doesn’t seem to happen as much. And so in order to be, have a meaningful time in public life, it isn’t about checking in with the Democratic Party or the Republican Party and picking up their talking points.

It’s really about bringing up, working to bring about a better life for people that you represent. And so that’s, that’s the way it should be. If you leave there and you haven’t done that, then I don’t know what you think about. I mean, do you think that I represented a narrow group, whether it was left to right. To me that’s, that’s a, that is not a meaningful participation. I’m very proud of the time I’ve spent in government, but I didn’t do it from the basis of you know, partisanship. I was just never my nature and the fact that, I have no regrets and I feel very good about some of the really significant accomplishments that occurred while I was involved with some of these issues.

HEFFNER: And given the extremities, you know, the, the real extreme nature of the base on the primary and caucus side is there a scenario you imagine where you can resonate and really overcome.

KASICH: You mean me? Maybe, I don’t know. I don’t know. Don’t have the answer to that.

HEFFNER: If you combine your interests, your interests on the House side was fiscal discipline in part, right?

KASICH: Well, were, that was, I was a reformer from you when I got there. I wasn’t just fiscal discipline. It was also fairness from the standpoint of the business of passing out benefit corporate welfare. I was a defense reformer, strong defense but reform, I mean I was involved in a lot of different issues down there and so I can’t be put into one little box, but I’m most known for my fiscal activism.

HEFFNER: As Governor you said to your state and that healthcare is important. You want to expand access to healthcare.


HEFFNER: You know, folks are really, I think increasingly receptive,

KASICH: You know, let me just go, let me go back to something you asked and that’s the question of can you break through. When people are on the extremes, it’s pretty hard to break through, but I don’t believe that’s where most people are. I think most people exist in the middle. Now, if you’re thinking about primaries or caucuses and all that, that’s a whole different breed.


KASICH: But do I think that most people want to exist on the right or on the left that they want to have anxiety and dysfunction? Of course they don’t. Hung to their ideology come, come thick or thin, I don’t think that’s where most people are. Most people just want to see government do its job and stop messing around and I think there are increasing numbers of people who don’t even want to watch the news anymore because it’s just too boring for them and you know why?

Because it doesn’t affect their life everyday. When you think about how much impact a president has on your life day to day or any leader day to day, of course there are times where you can find examples where it is a day-to-day function, but in most times it doesn’t affect you. What affects you? Your family, your friends, your job, and instead of people worrying so much about these folks who are up here, why don’t we worry about ourselves and our neighbor and our friends and our community and our schools and our towns, that’s where we should be really bring in the force of who we are to bring about change and peace and a better life for everyone.

HEFFNER: You won the nomination in your state. You won Ohio.


HEFFNER: Sherrod Brown won Ohio most recently and you have a successor who’s a Republican DeWine. What does that tell you? Because you, even though you come from different quarters, you and Senator Brown right now represent a kind of a philosophy towards politics that is uplifting, constructive, positive in people’s lives. The majority of the folks in the White House are not. There’s a lot of negativism.

KASICH: No, I, I’m not. I’m not too sure about that assumption. No. I mean,

HEFFNER: Well, let me put it through this way. You and Senator Brown both want to honor the dignity of work. I mean you just talked about that.

KASICH: Yeah, sure.

HEFFNER: You want to, so the interesting thing about your history is that you combine an interest in wanting to have.

KASICH: No, no. I like Sherrod Brown, but he’s very liberal. Balanced budgets and tax cuts.

HEFFNER: You do though, but simultaneously expanded

KASICH: Medicaid

HEFFNER: Access to healthcare,

KASICH: But that was smart decision.

HEFFNER: But this is what I want to get at because I’ve had liberals here, conservatives here, and this has been on my mind, which is, was in Wyoming not so long ago. Spoke with the state legislator who is a conservative Republican, retired and he is seeing within the Republican establishment, the voters want universal healthcare and it’s actually something that Trump campaigned on. And I’m wondering from your perspective, if you would support the idea of honoring people’s basic human right to health care, if they’re going to contribute to the nation, a kind of Kennedy-esque call that if you’re going to do for your country, your country is going to have your back. And Democrats, this is a third rail for them. The idea of a volunteer requirement or a work requirement, but if we are going to pursue universal care, Medicare for All, whatever,

KASICH: I’m for not for Medicare for All – that’s a big government program, that will…

HEFFNER: So how do you honor? How do you honor the dignity of work?

KASICH: We right now in Ohio have – I don’t know – maybe the lowest uninsured rate in our history. You know, we expanded Medicaid. We need to make it easier for small businesses to group together and individuals to become part of that, to be able to buy insurance at more affordable prices, but we need a fundamental reform of healthcare. It’s not sustainable.

HEFFNER: What does that look like? The fundamental.

KASICH: The fundamental reform would involve, first of all, everybody should be able to get it. There should be no denial for preexisting conditions. I don’t like the idea of having lifetime limits. We need to have a system that pays for performance. I mean, whenever you go to see the doctor, do you ever ask your doctor what things cost? I’ll bet you never did. Okay, so you’re not likely to do that. We need to pay for performance. Are you getting quality?

Are you getting what you’re in there to get, that’s the long-term initiative to try to make sure that we provide the best health care at the lowest possible price. But if there’s no sense of a marketplace, if there’s no sense of a cost, it’s pretty hard to guarantee that; that’s a long road. The pay for performance, that’s where we need to be. In the meantime of course, in my state we expanded Medicaid. It’s something that fits in with our fiscal policies because we don’t want to bankrupt the state and drive jobs out. So, you know, what we’ve done is to, is we’ve got, you know, employers who are self-insured and they cover their people. We need to do better job of getting small businesses to be able to group together. And in the tax

HEFFNER: Has the tax reform helped or hurt Ohio? Has the legislation that passed the reform, the corporate reform, the tax legislation that passed last year, has that helped or hurt Ohio? The Republican legislation?

KASICH: Well, it helped businesses, particularly big companies, to be able to have a lower tax rate. That’s good. But most big companies provide pretty comprehensive healthcare, the biggest change in our state to deal with the problems of the mentally ill, the drug addicted, the working poor, was the expansion of Medicaid and but we also need a big reform of Medicaid. We need a significant reform of Medicare. These things are all achievable if you’re creative and you think about these things in a different way. We took the growth of Medicaid from, I don’t know, eight or nine percent down to three or four percent and, we cover more people. It’s affordable. And so, you know, we were creative in the way we did it, which caused us are forced us to take a look at the way we had been providing certain programs and to make difficult reforms, but ultimately serve the customer, not the special interest groups.

HEFFNER: Where do we go next? If you were to. I know it’s been speculated about, but Governor Hickenlooper may or may not run for president, but regardless of that noise, right? Just the idea of what Democrats are going to listen to Republicans today with the House back in Democratic control now, where is there any possibility for bipartisanship?

KASICH: Well, I mean there’s the possibility is there. It’s just a matter of whether the leaders want to engage in that. I mean, it’s not that difficult. You know, if I were there I would say, look, we need to start working on something on the, on the debt. The debt is so high, 21 trillion. We need to start thinking if we’re going to spend more money on the Department of Defense, what should it look like? I mean these are great opportunities for, or how do we reform Medicaid? How do we do that? Hickenlooper and I had a plan, for example, not that our plan should be carved in stone, but is this an opportunity for particularly our younger members to be able to get together with people, the other party. Now that doesn’t mean you have to agree with them on everything. I worked with a lot of people. I disagree with 90 percent, but that 10 percent that I could agree upon were things that were interesting and exciting and things we could work together, and then you get called the odd couple because you’re working with somebody who’s philosophically different, but there’s always areas in which we can reach agreement and it’s fun. It’s fun to work on reform programs and strengthen the country.

HEFFNER: The most important area.

KASICH: It doesn’t even matter by the way whether you win right out of the box. I mean it took me 10 years of writing budgets against a Republican president, including a Republican president, ultimately get to ’97.

It just takes time. Takes time to reform the Pentagon. It’s very hard, but you put your time in, you build a coalition, and over time you can win.

HEFFNER: Are you most concerned about human decency though? The sort of indecency that we’ve seen out of this President just as it as a society…

KASICH: What I’m concerned about is that we all are our Brother’s Keeper. You know when you think about the two greatest Commandments, one, Love God and Love your Neighbor as you would want your neighbor to love you. That’s not, you know, love in the traditional sense, it’s look out for your neighbor the same way you would want your neighbor to look out for you and a sense in our country that we matter, that each of us matter, that each of us are unique, that each of us have certain gifts that can be used to help heal part of the world. I don’t spend my time wringing my hands. I spend my time spreading a different message, which is you matter. Come on; figure out what you can do. I don’t like the negative or the divisiveness. That’s why I didn’t support Trump for President and am. I don’t like to. I’m not a critic of Donald Trump. I just see things I don’t like and I say it. And there is something I like, I’ll say it, you know, it’s just, I’m not into that kind of positioning myself or whatever. I’ve been around too long. My job is to be try to be a positive and constructive influence on where we need to go and call out those things that I think are just not right in terms of what, how I feel about America.

HEFFNER: but at a certain point, those moral lapses are going to stay in us in a way that is irreversible, right?

KASICH: No, I don’t believe anything’s really are reversible. I don’t believe that.

HEFFNER: So this is maybe an aberration if you go.

KASICH: Well wait, wait, wait. First of all, most people aren’t engaged in all of this. Most people just live their lives. They’re not, like sitting there all the time. I’m not sure where you’re coming from on that.

HEFFNER: Coming from.

KASICH: This is supposed to be like a conversation. So I’m questioning you too.

HEFFNER: Yeah. Please do. What I’m talking about the moral degradation of living with Donald Trump. I understand.

KASICH: I don’t worry about moral degradation.

HEFFNER: The people,

KASICH: I’m worried about…

HEFFNER: A lot of people who want to support you in, you know, potential primary are people who think that the Republican Party’s brains are splattered because they haven’t returned the kind of moral values.

KASICH: Well, I had a lady come up to me at the airport the other day. She says I want to build a wall. Okay. I said, okay, fine, but we need to control the border. I mean, does that mean we’d have to have a wall everywhere because we do have to control the border, but we also don’t want to have family separation. She’s, yeah, you’re right about that. She’s, I’m not for gun control. This is all in one conversation. I said, well, let’s say that somebody in your family is unstable for some reason or somebody in the workplace is unstable. You go to a judge and say, that person could pose harm to somebody, would you? Would you be for that? She said, well, absolutely. Why don’t we do that? See, in other words, I think when you dig down deeper, if you could have a conversation with all those people and let them move away from the tribal aspects of where they are or only to absorb that, that they agree with, people are, are very open to this stuff. It’s just hard to get to them. It’s hard to be able to have an individual conversation with everybody, but I don’t want to.

HEFFNER: You have inspired many of them.

KASICH: Well, that’s good. Then I’m, I’m doing my job.


KASICH: I mean, I mean,

HEFFNER: That’s my perspective. My perspective is that, speaking as an old fogy millennial.

KASICH: Yeah. You are getting older.

HEFFNER: (Laughs) You don’t just chime in; you assert an authority when it comes to calling out things that virtually everyone else in your party…

KASICH: Yeah. I’m not, I’m like calling the woman out. I’m just saying, hey, did you ever think about?

HEFFNER: No, I’m not talking the lady, I’m talking about Trump, calling him out. No, the lady, you’re,

KASICH: Oh yeah, I see him do something that I think is inappropriate. I’m going to say I don’t like it.

HEFFNER: What does Ohio…

KASICH: It creates a bad mood? We, remember what I was saying. The President doesn’t necessarily on a day to day, in most cases on the day to day situation affect that much except maybe our mood and when the mood is negative, negative, negative, negative,


KASICH: Then people get sour. Well that’s not, that’s not a good place to live. So I’d like to see, hey, I know you have a problem, but let’s figure out how to fix it. Let’s go up, up, up, not down, down you know.

HEFFNER: That problem solving or stick-to-itiveness, I think we hosted Mayor Nan Whaley here. And she exhibited that same spirit, the spirit of wanting to get something done on behalf of folks, you know, work hard.


HEFFNER: And, what is the most lasting lesson from your governorship? Now you’ve…

KASICH: Care about people. But you can’t, you can’t manufacture caring, right?


KASICH: Okay. It’s not like I got it, I’m going to, today I’m going to take a care pill. It’s the ability to put yourself in anybody’s situation, to think, okay, what if I were there? What if I didn’t have healthcare? What if I couldn’t get a job? What if I had a job and I didn’t make much money? What about if, you know, if my kid is really struggling, you know, these are heartbreaking things. And so the ability, what if I, what if I were a small businessperson, I couldn’t figure out how to make payroll, or even if I was a big business person and I know I was suffering a lot of attacks. Okay. You think about that and you put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and when you do, that makes you a better person.

No, I do that all the time. Of course I don’t, you know, we all live at a very, very fast pace. But if we slow down and actually think about the challenges somebody else has, it improves our ability to show compassion. It improves our ability to be sort of dedicated to solving a problem. You know, I was at breakfast the other day, in my hometown and dad came in with two kids, twins, both autistic and you know, he loves those kids, but you could see the challenges that he had with these boys. And I said to one of the people serving the meal. Could you have dad come over? So Dad came over. I said, hey, you are you getting the help you need. Are we helping you? If we’re not tell me. Now, that’s what I will miss about being Governor is that I can like, let’s go help that guy and that makes you feel really good. But just to put yourself there, you know, I’ve got two incredible daughters and we’ve been blessed and I look at people that have more challenges and it makes me think about their lives more and what can I do to help them in their life, you know, but it’s not just the governor, it’s like their neighbors, it’s their friends, it’s their family. We’re all in a rowboat together, all in the rowboat together. I was talking to somebody else in my administration about what if you were… Let me give you an example. I met these two wonderful people. I think they’re from Houston in an airport. I meet a lot of people in the airport and they had a son that was suffering, suffering, very serious illness. They were worried about they were going to hit the lifetime limit. So if they hit the lifetime limit on healthcare, giving their kid some help, where do they go? What did they have to sell their house? Their car? I mean, that’s, I think to some degree that’s where the Republicans have missed it. It’s that sometimes they have not been stopping to think about somebody else’s life and what it means, you know, somebody at the border who’s running because they’ve been, they’ve been harassed or threatened in their own, in their own community. Now the Democrats, you know what? Some of their wild, you know, ICE is like the Ku Klux Klan. I mean, that, that stuff is just way out there or Medicare for All. Let’s just, what does that cost? How many trillions? I mean it’d bankrupt the country. So I think what we have to do for me focus on that middle. Don’t worry about these extremes. I mean, I listened to them but the ocean of people; it rests in the middle of our country.

HEFFNER: Governor,

KASICH: Is that it?

HEFFNER: The humanitarian middle. Thank you for your time today, Governor.

KASICH: All right. Thank you.

HEFFNER: And thanks to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time for thoughtful excursion into the world of ideas. Until then, keep an open mind, please visit The Open Mind website at to view this program online or to access 1,500 other interviews and do check us out on Twitter at Facebook @OpenMindTV for updates on future programming.