Ohio Governor John Kasich, the latest Republican to say he's interested in running for his party's nomination for president, attracted a crowd of about 200 people in Des Moines [last week]. During a forum at the Greater Des Moines Partnership, Kasich distinguished himself from the rest of the field. He criticized the pro-ethanol renewable fuel standard, and called for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
During the fight for the Republican presidential nomination four years ago, then-Gov. Rick Perry (R) generated quite a bit of attention with his "oops" moment in November 2011. But for those who followed the race closely, the truth is the Texas Republican was already in trouble before his memory failed him.
Two months earlier, at a different GOP debate, Perry was forced to defend his state-based policy allowing undocumented kids already in Texas to pay in-state tuition rates at state universities. "If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they have been brought there by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart," Perry said at the time.
The response was ugly. Republican voters don't like benefits for undocumented immigrants, but they get even more annoyed by allegations that they're heartless. Perry was booed aggressively.
Four years later, it seems Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) is playing with the same fire.
As the Iowa Public Radio report noted, Kasich added that the idea of deporting undocumented immigrants is "inhumane."
Less than a week earlier, Politico reported on an appearance the Ohio governor made at a Koch brothers event, where he was pressed to explain his support for Medicaid expansion.
"I don't know about you, lady," he responded, his voice rising. "But when I get to the pearly gates, I'm going to have an answer for what I've done for the poor."
By some accounts, "about 20" members of the audience walked out of the room in disgust.
These anecdotes offer some hint of the kind of national campaign Kasich will run after launching his presidential bid on July 21. The Ohio Republican, for all intents and purposes, will apparently give "compassionate conservatism" a try.
My suspicion is that this will fail miserably, and the Perry example from 2011 is illustrative. Kasich's relative moderation by contemporary GOP standards is itself a problem -- Republican primary voters will simply disagree with him on issues like deportations and Medicaid -- but the governor is taking the additional step of cloaking his positions in explicitly moral terms.
He doesn't see mass deportations as impractical; he sees them as "inhumane." The governor hasn't embraced Medicaid expansion because of sound fiscal policies; he's done so because he's thinking about what to say at "the pearly gates."
Conservatives reject these policies, but more importantly, they reject the idea of their own callousness. Kasich telling them otherwise will probably not be well received.