Thursday, June 25, 2015

Politix Update: They're Making News Without Even (Officially) Running

Call him the Panic Candidate.
Even though Ohio Governor John Kasich has not formally announced that he's joining the already crowded Republican presidential field, he seems to be everywhere except back home these days.  That is everywhere there might be potential donors who believe this swing state governor may just be the guy to rally what's left of the GOP's moderate base as an alternative to the floundering candidacy of Jeb Bush.
The mainstream media had all but handed Bush the nomination a few short months ago on the strength of his prodigious fund raising, close ties to party moderates, and the belief that an establishment-oriented candidate like himself had the best chance of beating Hillary Clinton.  But as I wrote in a recent Politix Update, the media pretty much got it wrong: Bush has many more challengers for the nomination than it was presumed there would be, while fellow Floridian Marco Rubio is running even if Mitt Romney is not, and while he may be establishment oriented his party is increasingly less so.  He also has run a lackluster campaign and has not figured out how to deal with the deep antipathy with which many Republicans view his big brother for sullying the party brand, a reality that in the end may be impossible to overcome.
Kasich's big problem is that he is getting in late, if he gets in at all.  And while his moderate bona fides will appeal to voters outside the GOP's increasingly white and right wing base, and he served two terms in Congress, just because he's a lot like Jeb Bush on policy issues doesn't mean he can pre-empt him by benefiting from the panic felt by party moderates who believe the Bush campaign has run out of steam.  
There's also his tacit support of the Affordable Care Act by expanding Medicaid coverage for low-income adults in Ohio two years ago.  This will alienate him from the Republicans nationally who believe that access to affordable health care is a socialist evil, or something, as well as distance him from the many presidential wannabes who have either voted to repeal Obamacare or vociferously oppose it.  His allies counter that Kasich won reelection last year with 64 percent of the vote in part because of what they call a courageous economic and moral stand for the poor.
Nor does a Kasich bid mean that conservative candidates like Rubio are going to roll over.  Conservatives believe, naively in my view, that this is their year to take back the White House after the disappointing showings by moderates John McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012.
A key to whether Kasich runs is if he can corral the support of Rupert Murdoch, the media tycoon and Fox News owner who has an oversized voice in Republican Party affairs.  Politico notes that Murdoch and Kasich, who was a Fox News host for six years, are close friends and Kasich has gotten Murdoch to contribute lavishly to Republican causes in the past.  So how about his own cause?
In any event, Kasich seems to be making points, in part because of his reputation for not mincing words.
"That was more candor in 30 minutes than I've heard in three hours of listening to other politicians talk," said Wes Climer, chairman of the York County (S.C.) Republican Party, after hosting a Kasich appearance.  And at an appearance before big donors in Southern California, one of them told Kasich that she disagreed with the governor's decision to expand Medicaid coverage.  "I don't know about you, lady," he fired back, "But when I get to the pearly gates, I'm going to have to answer for what I've done for the poor."
Call him the Phantom Candidate.
Vice President Biden has not said he will be running for president, but neither has he ruled it out, which gives hope to Democrats -- at this point a small handful, anyway -- who do not much care for presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton and believe Biden would be the best Democrat to carry on the legacy of Barack Obama.
Will Pierce, an Army Reserve captain who served in Iraq, chairs the Draft Biden movement, which he runs out of a small office in Chicago.  He says the movement has collected 81,000 petition signatures, is fundraising and hopes to lure Biden into the race after a series of campaign rallies.
"We’re bringing on more people. We just want to show the vice president the support he has," says Pierce. "When and if he gets into the race, he'll have a foundation. He'll have some endorsers. He'll have a grass-roots organization ready to go."
In the unlikely event Biden decided to run, that almost certainly would be predicated on Clinton having to withdraw from the race for, say, health reasons.  If Biden was then nominated -- and the possibility that he would beat whomever the Republicans threw at him -- he would be 77 at the end of a first term, making him the oldest of any president in history.  That alone would seem to rule against run.  Meanwhile, Biden has been in Washington for 42 years and, one would think, is pretty damned tired of life in the public eye. 
Add to that the recent death of his son, Beau, to brain cancer at age 48 and it's difficult to see Biden doing anything other than going home to tiny Delaware after a outsized career.
So you're a Republican governor but your ambitions are higher.  Much higher -- liking running for president.  So at this stage of the game, your focus is on the early primary states more than your own, and while your policy decisions might go over well among the Republican burghers of Iowa or New Hampshire, members of your own party are in revolt back home.
It has happened to Chris Christie in New Jersey and Bobby Jindal in Louisiana, and now Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is feeling the slings and arrows of Republican legislators over his repeated demands to do more with less, like pay for $1.3 billion in bridge and road repairs without raising taxes.  While this so-called fiscal responsibility may play well with conservatives nationally, what Walker really wants to do is borrow that $1.3 billion, which his legislative colleagues say is irresponsible.  
Campaigning in Iowa and elsewhere, Walker boasts of lowering taxes by $2 billion and lowering unemployment, but he does not mention that Wisconsin ranked 35th in job growth in the nation during his first term, and that it trails its upper Midwest neighbors.
The no-new-taxes pledge is indeed a winner out on the hustings, but Wisconsin legislators are more interested in bridges that don't fall down and roads that don't fall apart.  Kinda like Kansas, where Governor Sam Brownback's anti-tax extremism has won him applause among conservatives but infuriated legislators and plunged the state into a fiscal crisis.  And in the long run destroyed any chance of Brownback being taken seriously as presidential material.
Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968.  Click here  for an index of previous Politix Updates.

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