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Back in N.H., Kasich talks calls for a 2020 run – and the meaning of life

  • Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks at a town hall event at New England College in Henniker on Tuesday, April 3, 2018. Right out of the gate, Kasich was asked if he was going to run for president in 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Ohio Gov. John Kasich talks to the crowd at New England College in Henniker on Tuesday, April 3, 2018. The town hall setting was full of both curious people and journalists and was covered by CSPAN. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Wednesday, April 04, 2018

No, John Kasich hasn’t made up his mind on 2020. The sitting Ohio governor dispatched with the question efficiently Tuesday, barely a minute into his self-requested meeting with the Monitor editorial board.

Five minutes in, the governor was already on to more cerebral fare.

“When you think about philosophers or theologians, what do they always discuss? The meaning of life – the purpose of life,” he said. “We’re so caught up now that we don’t stop sometimes and think about, ‘What does that mean about me, what are the virtues that I have to have in order to get over these things and figure out my responsibility?’ ”

The John Kasich of 2018 is more philosopher than politician, more peacemaker than pundit. Or at least that’s how he styles it now.

Two years after coming a notable, if distant, second to Donald Trump in the New Hampshire primary, Kasich was back in the Granite State on Tuesday, making the rounds with news outlets and politicians, musing on gun control and trade policy, and tirelessly batting down speculation of his presidential ambitions.

“I’ve got to finish these nine months (as governor), and then we’re going to keep all of our options open,” he said.

Along the way, he took pains to address what he said are the country’s true ills: the “war mentality” dominating discourse and polarizing the electorate. And there, he said, is where his newfound sentimentality comes in.

“I think it all starts where we live,” he said. He pointed to moments of shared humanity, with neighbors helping flood victims in Houston, and teachers shielding students from gunfire in Parkland, Fla.

“Nobody asked anybody ‘What’s your party identification?’ ” he said.

“If you’re asking me is there a silver bullet or magic, I don’t think there is,” he said. “But I think there is hope for our country. And we can see it at moments in time, but it’s not there enough.”

It’s a glimmer of optimism facing sizeable threats: a mercurial, combative man in the White House, and a pair of parties tripping over themselves to define the other in relation to him. But even as Democrats sharpen attacks and Republicans lock their defenses ahead of the midterms, Kasich said the country is still open to a president who can unify.

Someone who can listen widely and act judiciously, he said Tuesday. Someone who can thread together differing objectives while honoring his or her own values. Someone like Kasich? The governor demurred.

“If we can find good leaders who have guts, who can stick to their principles, I think we’re all hungry for that,” he said.

Even considering challenging a sitting Republican president with a high party approval rate is audacious, but Kasich’s skepticism of Trump is consistent, he argued Tuesday. He refused to endorse Trump’s candidacy from the beginning, even shunning the Republican nominating convention in his own backyard of Cleveland. And in recent months he’s ratcheted up some critiques – opposing the president’s tariffs and border wall plans, to start.

Meanwhile, whether he’s asking for it not, the governor received a positive early sign: an American Research Group poll Monday night showed him six points behind the president in a theoretical matchup in New Hampshire.

Still, Kasich said he isn’t fiercely opposed to Trump, nor sold on whether the president deserves a primary challenge at all, let alone one from him. In the end, he said, it’s going to come down to the right set of circumstances.

“The whole purpose is to keep my voice out there,” he said of his New Hampshire trip. “We’ll see what happens. I just don’t know. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I honestly don’t know.”

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twi  tter at@edewittNH.)