A problem for Democrats is that the most compelling anti-Trump currently on the scene is a Republican.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich remains for now a Republican—if, that is, Republicans still believe in tax cuts, spending cuts, balanced budgets, conservative economics, pro-life policies and character.
Kasich is the only currently prominent American politician who passionately and credibly challenges the man-child president where he needs to be challenged, on decency and morality and compassion.
You’re not going to beat Trump by joining him in his squalor or taking a DNA test to play his game or by arguing that the economy is no good no matter what the indicators say.
You might beat him only because most of America sees him for the megalomaniacal and values-devoid disgrace that he is, and would prefer, given a valid choice, a better person as their president.
But you must be better, not merely say you’re better.
Even some in Trump’s base concede his deep flaws but mitigate what they see by pointing to the other side and saying, “Yeah, but what about that?”
Bill Clinton was no moral paragon, they’ll say.
There was a classic Twitter thread on that point the other day: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted about Trump’s business ties to the Saudi Arabians and said it would be interesting to see how Trump reacted to the journalist’s brutal murder and dismemberment in the Saudi consulate in Turkey. And the right-wing actor James Wood replied, “You mean the Saudis who contributed $25 million to the Clintons?” meaning the Clintons’ foundation.
There is always a Clinton sin hanging there for Republican symmetry.
Hanging a woman out in public so that you can smear a man over a Supreme Court nomination was the antithesis of virtue, Trump defenders will say.
The main element of real moral strength is not declaring it or making a public demonstration of it. Instead, it is engaging in it when people aren’t looking.
Here, then, is a story I’ve written once and told several times. It was related to me more than two years ago by a Republican in good standing, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who had summoned me to the Governor’s Mansion for a sandwich.
He wanted to explain that, if I believed in Medicaid expansion, as I did, then I might consider being a little less ridiculing and incendiary when he tried to add conservative “reforms” to save it with a Republican Legislature.
The story Hutchinson told was that, shortly after he was elected in 2014, he and other newly elected GOP governors got invited to attend a meeting of the Republican Governors Association. At a session around a large table, the newly elected GOP governors were asked to rise one by one, identify themselves and state their biggest challenges upon entering office.
Hutchinson told his colleagues that day that his biggest challenge was that he needed to save Medicaid expansion in his state for 250,000 people, but, ironically, faced an overwhelming legislative majority of his own party that would be hard to convince in sufficient numbers, particularly considering that his state constitution imposed a three-fourths majority legislative vote on appropriations.
Kasich was seated at that large table that day as the veteran Republican governor of Ohio.
On the next Sunday, Hutchinson was back in Arkansas when his phone rang. He answered. The caller was Kasich, a Roman Catholic early in life and now a devoted Anglican church-goer who says true religion matters more than denomination. Kasich told Hutchinson that he was coming out of church and couldn’t let another minute pass without pleading with him: Don’t let those quarter-million people on Medicaid expansion in Arkansas lose health insurance.
Over rejections from Republican legislators in his state, Kasich had embraced and passed Medicaid expansion.
That the Republican governor of Ohio placed an entirely personal call to the Republican governor of our distant state to make his plea for our state’s poorest people … it nearly brings a tear to my eye, and I’ve seen the story’s telling visibly move audiences of a decidedly liberal persuasion.
Kasich has room to talk, and he used that room the other night in an appearance on Hardball on MSNBC, which, yes, I confess to have been watching, though I didn’t mean to do it. I lingered there during channel-surfing.
Kasich expressed eye-moistened righteous indignation that Trump would react to the reports of Saudi murder and dismemberment of a journalist in the context of billions of dollars the Saudis have said they’ll pay us for airplanes.
Kasich quoted the late Michael Novak, a conservative Catholic philosopher who famously wrote that “democratic capitalism” encompasses Christian principles in that it offers opportunity to lift people to better circumstances. But, Kasich said, Novak also contended that capitalism without compassion was “bankrupt.”
America’s essence is not profit, but an “idea,” Kasich said. Our fathers didn’t fight on the beaches for airplane profits, but for that idea—of human decency and human rights—Kasich said, appearing more emotional.
So, here’s to capitalism underpinned by compassion. Here’s to Sunday church-going in Ohio spurring concern for poor people in Arkansas. Here’s for the idea of human goodness over the unfettered pursuit of profit.
In the absence of anyone else currently filling the needed void, here’s to Kasich as an independent candidate for president. He’s a doctrinaire conservative on the issue of women’s choice, but the Supreme Court is already gone for a generation to the anti-woman right, anyway.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers’ Hall of Fame. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.