At a town hall in New Hampshire on Monday, an undecided voter told John Kasich that she was having trouble deciding between him, Hillary Clinton, or Bernie Sanders.
“Isn’t that interesting,” Kasich said, evidently enjoying this affirmation of his cross-over appeal. But then the voter posed a question that suggests her interest in Kasich had less to do with his “independence” than a lack of basic information.
“So, my question is: Why should I vote for you in the Democratic primary tomorrow?” she asked.
Instead of informing this voter that he is, in fact, a Republican, the Ohio governor started pitching himself as a happy medium between the self-identified “practical progressive” and democratic socialist.
“I’m an independent guy. Nobody tells me what to do. I mean, Bernie’s a socialist — that ain’t gonna happen. We’re not gonna tax people 90 percent,” Kasich said. “The problem with Hillary is this: What’s the latest poll say, what’s the latest focus group? … Hillary’s too brittle and Bernie’s too out on the extreme. One of them’s too hot and one of them is too cold. But I’m the right temperature.”
With Kasich rising to second place in some of the latest New Hampshire polls, this seems like a good time to remind any undecided Democrats that the Ohio governor is a conservative. Kasich is probably the mainstream media’s favorite Republican candidate, having received the 2015 Jon Huntsman Memorial Prize for Most Moderate Candidate in the GOP Field. But the world’s largest miniature poodle is still a very small dog.
It’s true that Kasich does not want to ban all Muslims from America. He also opposes rounding up and deporting 11 million people. And when the federal government offered to give poor people in his state free health insurance, he didn’t turn them down. By offering forthright defenses of these positions, the governor has injected little bursts of rationality into the festivals of paranoia and insult comedy we call the 2016 Republican debates.
But he also thinks climate change is “some theory that’s not proven” and has shuttered half of the abortion clinics in his state through targeted regulation. What’s more, Kasich’s chief fiscal proposal — a balanced-budget amendment — is so radical and misguided, virtually every major economist on the right and left opposes it. And unlike many of Trump’s most outlandish proposals, the balanced-budget amendment enjoys widespread popularity, which makes it all the more dangerous. There are countless reasons why it’s insane to require the federal government to balance a budget every year, but here are the big two:
1. Any time the economy goes into recession, revenues automatically go down, and the use of food assistance and unemployment insurance goes up. If the government had to balance a budget in 2008, it would have needed to either immediately cut off aid to people in desperate need or raise taxes at a time when Americans could least afford them. A balanced-budget amendment would turn minor downturns into recessions, and recessions into depressions.
2. Since the Republican Party doesn’t actually care about low deficits so much as low taxes, the version of the amendment that’s kicked around the House and Senate over the past few years would require spending to be capped at 18 percent of GDP. With spending currently hovering around 23 percent of GDP, balancing the budget on Kasich’s terms would likely require cutting virtually every government program outside of the military and entitlements.
At Monday’s town hall, Kasich said that he’d support Bernie Sanders for “president of Ben & Jerry’s,” since the idea of socialized ice cream tickled his sweet tooth. But as long as Kasich remains obsessed with keeping budgets in the black, the Ohio governor will remain a better candidate for Ben & Jerry’s franchisee than for president of the United States.