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The VICE Guide to the 2016 Election

Meet John Kasich, the Former Lehman Brothers Banker Who Just Announced He's Running for President

Everything you need to know about the latest Republican to pile into the 2016 clown car.
July 21, 2015, 7:24pm
Photo via Flickr

As much as the ever-expanding tire-fire that is Donald Trump seems to have sucked the oxygen from the Republican primary room, it's important to keep in mind that there are other men (and one woman) vying for that party's nomination in 2016. In fact, as of this morning, there are now 16 Republicans running for president, with Ohio Governor John Kasich becoming the latest to look around the GOP field and think, "If these clowns are running, why not me?"


Compared to Trump—the Looney Tunes standard by which all other candidates are now judged—Kasich is both a serious person and a serious politician (like Trump, though, he seems to be kind of a dick). Kasich has been the governor of Ohio, a crucial primary state, since 2011; before that, he hosted a Fox News show called From the Heartland.

More relevantly, he worked in investment banking at Lehman Brothers until the firm came crashing down in 2008, sparking a global economic meltdown. Before that, Kasich spent nearly two decades as a Republican congressman. He also briefly ran president in 2000, before realizing that he couldn't beat George W. Bush.

Of course, "serious" is not the same as "smart" or "good" — the DNC is already gleefully sending out emails highlighting Kasich's years at Lehman Brothers (which he has rather tone-deafly described as "a fantastic time"). But on paper at least, Kasich bears some resemblance to someone who could feasibly run for president of the United States.

Unfortunately for Kasich, however, the ways in which he resembles a presidential candidate are exactly what make him such a bad one in 2016. He's basically unknown among Republican voters, with polling numbers somewhere between one and two percent. Right now, that puts him squarely on the B Team for the first presidential debate, relegated to a 5 pm sideshow with the rest of the Republican try-hards who didn't make it into the GOP's top 10. And while he has been in Republican politics for decades, Kasich's experience probably won't trump (LOL) his biggest problem in a GOP primary: The dude is just not that conservative.


To wit, while his 2016 Republican rivals were shutting down the government to stop Obamacare, Kasich actually embraced the law, expanded Medicaid access in Ohio through the Affordable Care Act. He also supports both the Common Core, and immigration reform that would open up possible pathways to citizenship for undocumented workers—both big no-nos for the die-hard right-wingers who vote in Republican primaries. And unlike most of the party's other White House hopefuls, Kasich believes that climate change is real (although he doesn't want to do much about it.)

He does have some points in his favor, as far as conservatives go. As DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz wrote in a statement on his candidacy, "As governor of Ohio, Kasich has cut taxes for the wealthy while placing stress on local governments to clean up his messes. He's cut almost $2 billion in education funding and signed some of the most restrictive women's health laws in the country."

If you're a Republican, of course, that sentence reads more like an endorsement than a criticism. As the National Review points out, Kasich has turned Ohio's $8 billion budget deficit into a $2 billion surplus—although local newspapers are filled withaccusations that he accomplished this only by shortchanging things like infrastructure, education, and other basic services.

How Kasich plans to play all of this in 2016 remains to be seen. His campaign announcement, like all campaign announcements, was light on specifics, and heavy on platitudes, including, "The sun is going to rise to the zenith in America again," "The light of a city on a hill cannot be hidden. America is that city and you are that light," "I do believe in the power of big, bold ideas," and, "I have to humbly tell you, I believe I do have the skills."

Should he choose to run as the moderate's moderate, Kasich will obviously have to outpace Bush in a race to the center. Critics on both sides of the aisle are already casting Kasich as this year's Jon Huntsman—which is to say, a Republican who thinks Republicans have lost their minds, and was therefore phenomenally unsuccessful as a Republican presidential candidate.

But whether Kasich is another Huntsman—or, as he likely believes, another Mitt Romney or John McCain—his candidacy raises the same Sophie's Choice that's always hung over the Republican 2016: Will the GOP try running the same campaign it did in 2008 and 2012, and hope Hillary Clinton's no Obama? Or will it finally let the Tea Party take the wheel and drive the party straight out of orbit—and into the welcoming arms of one Donald Trump.

Follow Kevin Lincoln on Twitter.