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John Kasich is in Wolfeboro, N.H., for a town hall meeting at the Brewster Academy boat house overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee. “Isn’t this beautiful?” He asks. “We love you,” says an older woman sitting in the front row. “Thank you,” says Kasich. “It’s always good to have your aunt in the crowd,” he jokes.
He’s standing surrounded by about 150 people who are sitting in chairs arranged around him. “Boy, this really is theater in the round,” he observes. Kasich has a slick operation. When I arrive he’s out front being interviewed by the media. He has guards with earpieces and sunglasses. There are stage lights in the room. The whole thing is being recorded.
Kasich is pronounced “kay-sick,” not “case-itch,” in case you’re wondering. “I used to be a big star on Fox, anyone remember that?” he deadpans before ticking off his other accomplishments.
He met President Nixon when he was an 18-year-old freshman in college: “They said I could have five minutes with him in the Oval Office, I took 20!” He was the only Republican to defeat an incumbent Democrat in 1982, when he ran as a Reagan Republican at a time Reagan wasn’t all that popular (“This was before the recovery started”). He was a member of the House Armed Services Committee for six years, he chaired the House Budget Committee in the 1990s, and was the author of the balanced budget. He left Congress after 18 years to work in the private sector (Lehman Brothers). He ran for and was elected governor of Ohio in 2010 and turned a multi-billion dollar state deficit into a surplus.
Vince, an elderly gentlemen standing next to me, asked whether Kasich thought McConnell and Boehner were doing a good job and whether the three branches of government were corrupt. Kasich’s answers were, essentially, yes and no. “He just lost me with that answer,” says Vince.
A woman near us seems to be dissatisfied with Kasich’s response to her own question: Should Planned Parenthood be defunded? Kasich says there should be reforms. The woman repeats, “defund!” Kasich says he’s pro-life, then talks for a few minutes. “He didn’t answer my question,” the woman mutters.
She and Vince talk quietly to each other through the next question, which was about the “military industrial complex receiving billions of dollars.” I miss most of the answer, but Kasich says someone has to build our weapons, and we need more weapons. We need to rebuild our nuclear fleet. Earlier in the meeting, when Kasich was recounting his meeting with Nixon, he had said he met Nixon for a second time in 1987, and the former president had advised him, “Pay attention to foreign policy!”
The “child’s advocate” seems satisfied with Kasich’s answer to her question about pre-K education. “I’m for it.” He says. “Not universal, but for those who can’t afford it. We didn’t need government assistance to send our children”—he means he and his wife, not he and the woman in the crowd — “but we did. So I support it. The proof’s in the pudding.” He asks her to give her card to his people afterwards.
One man has an extended colloquy with Kasich about entitlement programs. “In the state of Florida, there was a study I read, they were spending more on fraud then on benefits,” says the man. Kasich says you have to try to reduce fraud, but there’s no line-item in the budget for it. You have to go find it. And eliminating fraud will not save the programs. There have to be structural reforms.
Kasich points out that he had put forward, back in the ’90s, a plan to reform social security. Younger people would have started at a lower pay out, but they would have had the option to invest a portion of the funds in private funds. “Of course no one voted for it,” Kasich says. The man in the crowd seems to be supportive of social security, but he then suggests that the program should be optional. “I’m not in favor of that,” says Kasich.
Afterwards I ask the governor, “What if Iran gets a bomb? What are you going to do?”
“Well, we don’t want it to get to that point obviously,” he says, adding that we would need to put the sanctions back in place. “If it gets to that, we’ll have to respond.”
“Militarily,” I say.
“Not necessarily,” he replies, looking me in the eye. Is he trying to figure out which way I lean on the question? “We don’t want to broadcast that we’re going to go to war.” If we do that, we have to go over there. There are lots of ramifications.
“We don’t want Iran to drop a bomb on Israel,” I say.
“Absolutely not,” he says. “We’re very clear” that Israel must be defended.
“I’m the father of two Marine combat veterans,” says a man over my shoulder. “Our current president is decimating the military. This man will rebuild the military!” He shakes Kasich’s hand.
“He’s a politician,” says Vince afterwards. “All these politicians. He was in Washington 18 years. He’s part of the problem. He thinks there’s no corruption in Washington? We don’t need more politicians.”
But many of the attendees, wearing “Kasich is for US” shirts and stickers, are enthusiastic for the governor of Ohio.
Disclaimer: All quotes are from memory.