A strong but unexpected conservative victory in the recently concluded UK general elections was preceded by a rapid surge to power by another conservative right - The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India set me thinking as to what prevents the conservative right in the US from romping home? Conservatives in the UK and in India drove to power at the back of a strong and popular leadership of Mr. Cameron and Prime Minister Modi. Both display a strong leadership with a blend of compassionate conservatism which won them the centrist and swing votes. While Prime Minister Modi openly seem to embrace Muslims, Christians and other minority communities with the slogan of "sab ka saath, sab ka vikas" (together with all; development for all), Mr. Cameron vociferously batted for LGBT rights both within and outside his party. Thus the question in front of the Grand Old Party (GOP) is can any of its 16 candidates running for the White House in 2016 afford to project themselves as compassionate conservatives, a term perceived as apologetic by many hard-right demons in the GOP. The GOP must first decide for itself as to what does it want? Ideological purity - represented by rabble rousers like Mr. Donald Trump, Mr. Mike Huckabee, Mr. Ted Cruz, Mr. Bobby Jindal, among others or winning the White House which is only possible by projecting a candidate who is pragmatic and yet compassionately conservative enough with an emphasis on social justice.
The latest entrant into the Republican Party nomination race the Ohio Governor John R. Kasich with a solid and an impressive CV fits the bill. Arguably he would be the most dangerous candidate Democrats would like to avoid if at all he ever makes it past the Republican primaries. First and foremost, a close look at his outstanding CV provides a glimmer of hope that he could restore America from debt because he did in Ohio. After winning the gubernatorial election narrowly in 2010 Mr. Kasich inherited an exchequer with a deficit of US$ 8 billion, which he turned into a budget surplus of roughly US$ 2 billion by 2015. He cut taxes worth US$ 5 million or more along with bureaucratic red tape, created more than 400,000 jobs in private sector and diversified the economy from agriculture to other sectors. Four years later, the voters in Ohio rewarded the performance of Mr. Kasich with a thumping reelection in which he ousted his rival with a margin of 31% in vote share and went on to win 86 out of the total 88 counties, including sweeping some of the strong democratic counties - a record landslide gubernatorial election win by far by any Republican in the recent years.
The second important factor which distinguishes Mr. Kasich from the ayatollahs of hard-right in the GOP is that he has adopted policies during his tenure in Ohio which has won many independent votes. In fact, in the last two US Presidential elections, the difference between the Democrats and Republicans was the crucial independent swing votes which swung towards Mr. Obama. Mr. Kasich has a strong reputation of being a 'compassionate conservative' as he reached out beyond the traditional Republican audiences to talk about the poor and to the poor, to talk to minorities, drug addicted and disabled. His decision to expand the Medicaid using Federal government money under the Affordable Health Care Act (which his team believed would be cheaper will auger well with voters) - a government health scheme for the poor which often infuriates conservative purists, leaving the door open to major immigration reform, not to stand in the way of recent Supreme Court ruling to legalize gay marriage, support for common core states standard initiative might boost a large chunk of independent voters. Some of his social policies, which he claims emphasizes on strong social justice such as the polices to keep minors out of prison, using the surplus resources in providing support for the disabled, mentally ill and drug addicts, help ex-inmates find decent jobs, and policies to support non-white entrepreneurs have been an instant hits in Ohio. No wonder why he feels, "there is one thing that people in my political party don't always understand. Economic growth is not an end to itself. Economic growth provides the means whereby we can reach out and help those who live in the shadows." He questions his party as to, "How do you allow people to rise, how do you get everyone, like our minority community, how do you get them the share in the prosperity. We are a divided country. Rich, poor, black, white, rural, urban, this is not how we can succeed as a country". Empirical economic evidence support Mr. Kasich's opinion. Economist Dr. Mark Ravallion, at the World Bank group in his 2013 study finds that the decline in poverty through higher economic growth is steeper and faster in equal societies. For instance, he finds that a 1% increase in economic growth in an unequal society reduces poverty rate by only 0.6%. Whereas, in a more equal society a 1% increase in economic growth rate will cut the poverty rate by 4.3%. I concede however that it is precisely these beliefs which could cause severe problems for Mr. Kasich with the traditional conservatives and in Republican primaries but they could help him in a general election.
The third factor which might prove advantageous to Mr. Kasich is that he got Washington credibility. The current Republican candidates running for White House are either Senators or Governors. Before becoming Governor of Ohio Mr. Kasich was a nine-term Congressman from the Columbus area. During his stint, he had a reputation of somebody who can get things done at the Washington. He was the Chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee and a chief architect of a balanced budget deal during the helm of Mr. Bill Clinton. Under his Chairmanship, there were four straight budgets which were balanced. He is a moderate and reached out to Mr. Bill Clinton and also worked with Ms. Hillary Clinton on health care issues. During the process of balancing the budget he has shown pragmatism, which many in the GOP lack, wherein he cut unnecessary expenditure in the area of defense thus earning him the wrath of Republicans who dubbed him a 'cheap hawk'! Cheap hawk or not, as a member of House Armed Services Committee he has a solid 18 years of experience in foreign policy issues which no other 15 Republican nominees can match.
Finally, the other important factor running in favor of Mr. Kasich unlike other Republican Governors running for 2016 office like Mr. Chris Christie, Mr. Bobby Jindal and Mr. Scott Walker, is that he is still very popular not only in Ohio but also in New Hampshire. In fact he being from Ohio is a big plus as no Republican Presidential nominee in the history of GOP, and for that matter any other President since John F. Kennedy, has ever won the US Presidential elections without winning the swing state of Ohio.
However formidable his credentials might be, it is surely a huge uphill task for the Ohio Governor to secure the Republican nomination. Apart from battling his fellow Republican candidates, whom he might easily surmount given a proper chance, he might well lose against the very party he represents. What becomes important for Mr. Kasich is not the final election, in which he is expected to do much better as admittedly the Hillary Clinton campaign is already worried about his candidacy, but to win the nomination through party primaries. He is not particularly popular among traditional conservatives because he embraced the Affordable Health Care Act, also known as the Obama care, and presided over the Medicaid expansion. His support for the common core and immigration reforms in which he believes that the country should be kind in dealing with 11 million undocumented illegal immigrants outraged many Republicans in the GOP. This is where conservative pressure groups like the Tea Party movement, Club for Growth, Heritage Action, among others, have completely captured and dominate the Republican Party cadre with all their clout. In the recent past, many moderate incumbent Republican Congressmen were defeated by primary challengers staunchly backed by the Tea Party. In fact, it will not be an exaggeration to say that many among the 16 Republican nominees running for the 2016 White House are so terrified of the influence the Tea Party movement wields over the party primaries that they either toe the Party line or risk losing their nominations. The result could be the ouster of exemplary candidates like Mr. Kasich from the nomination and repetition of 2008 and 2012 results for the GOP in the 2016 Presidential elections.
The way forward?
It is high time for the GOP to do some soul searching within. What should be its ultimate goal? Ideological purity or winning the White House? The GOP must understand that if it wants to capture the White House this time around, then the moment the Tea Party backed candidates like Mr. Ted Cruz or others win the party nomination, they would have lost the 2016 Presidential elections even before it begins! It is in this regard Governor Kasich for many reasons is the ideal candidate and the best bet for the GOP effort to win the Presidency bid. He is not only a natural leader which is what the western world has been lacking but also a brilliant speaker and administrator. He has a frantic energy and exuberant personality that could serve him and the country well. For all his talk and emphasis on race relations, taking the poor, unemployed, disabled along, he is a compassionate conservative who could be a healer for today's divided America. He is, I believe, a Reagan with smarts. Provided an opportunity, Mr. Kasich could well create a new GOP coalition, bringing in the Afro-American community, the Reagan blue-collar, the Blue Dog Democrats (which is a caucus of the US Congressional representatives though from the Democratic Party but identifies itself as conservative Democrats), and Catholics as he has demonstrated sturdy national defense conservatism with a strong emphasis on social justice. In a nutshell, he could be in a conservative manner the "Bill Clinton of the Right."
Ravallion, Mark (2013) How Long Will It Take to Lift One Billion People Out of Poverty? Policy Research Working Paper 6325, The World Bank Group: Washington D.C.