From a national political perspective, Ohio governor John Kasich remains a pretty big deal: a #NeverTrumper who has not touched his forehead to the ground in submission to the 45th president, and who is frequently touted as a potential primary challenger to Trump in 2020.
Be that as it may, Kasich is being treated like a leper by the leading Republican candidates to succeed him as governor, including his lieutenant governor. The Cincinnati Enquirer has the strange story:
In the Republican primary for Ohio governor, no one apparently wants Gov. John Kasich’s endorsement - including the candidate who has it.
Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor told a large group of Clermont County Republicans during her interview for their endorsement last Wednesday that Kasich had endorsed Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and his running mate, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, two Republicans in the room confirmed to The Enquirer.
But Kasich had endorsed Taylor, his running mate in 2010 and 2014.
It gets worse. In the same speech Taylor “said that she has not seen the governor for about a year,” a statement that was immediately rebutted by Kasich’s spokesman, who said: “The governor and lieutenant governor have certainly talked many times over the past year.”
The most hilarious response, though, came from candidate Jon Husted:
“Siri, who did John Kasich endorse in the governor’s race?” Husted asked his iPhone, already knowing the answer. An article from The Enquirer popped up, titled “John Kasich backs Mary Taylor for Ohio governor. Will it help?”
The upshot of this incident is that in Ohio as in much of the country, Republican primary candidates don’t want to have associations that offend hard-core conservatives, and really don’t want to be identified with Donald Trump’s enemies or rivals. Taylor’s self-distancing isn’t new: At an October 2017 forum for GOP gubernatorial candidates moderated by Frank Luntz, she joined everyone else in the room in making lukewarm-to-negative assessments of her two-time running mate, and even doubted (gasp!) whether Kasich was a True Conservative:
Taylor said Kasich has made decisions that don’t align with conservative values, such as the Medicaid expansion: “Um, you know, I don’t know I can answer the specific question conservative or not. I can tell you that some of the decisions made have not reflected what I consider to be good conservative values.”
What makes this GOP disdain toward Kasich especially interesting is that he’s relatively popular among Ohio’s general electorate, and isn’t exactly a liberal by any rational measurement. He’s even tried to patch up his relationship with Trump, though even his positive comments sound rather grudging, like this one after a White House meeting with the president last February:
The man is the president of the United States. It’s sort of like being on an airplane. You want to root for the pilot. If you’re on the airplane with the pilot, you don’t want the pilot to screw up.
If there’s any legitimate foundation for a primary challenge to Trump in 2020, Kasich has to be considered the front-runner to take him on. But it seems his Republican colleagues in Ohio are voting with their feet against that idea.