Editorial: Our endorsement in GOP primary contest: Gov. John Kasich

Last modified: Friday, February 26, 2016
While Massachusetts can sometimes feel overshadowed by its less-populous neighbor to the north during presidential primary season, next week’s Super Tuesday election leaves no doubt: Our votes matter.

In both the Republican and Democratic races, the 11 states voting next week could dramatically shift the course of the race and, by extension, American history. The Gazette will make an endorsement Saturday in the Democratic contest. Today, we focus on the Grand Old Party — which these days is looking anything but grand.

Two extremists masquerading as populists — the narcissistic Donald Trump and the cynical Sen. Ted Cruz — threaten to hijack the party and silence its more reasonable voices. We hope Massachusetts Republican voters will seize this opportunity to slow their progress and advance a candidate who, while imperfect, would bring to the race common sense, compassion and the ability to lead through consensus.

That candidate is Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Before we detail our reasons for endorsing Kasich, a few words about the leading candidates.

That list begins, of course, with Trump, a billionaire New York real estate developer and reality TV star who has promised to build a “great, great wall” at the Mexican border, “bomb the hell out of” the Islamic State, banish Syrian refugees, forbid Muslims from entering the country and replace the Affordable Care Act with — and this is about as specific as Trump gets on the details of health care for millions of children, women and men — “something terrific.” While Trump established himself as front-runner with his wins in the early voting states of New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, Cruz is doing his best to match him in appealing to voters’ worst instincts. A first-term senator, Cruz secured his place as a far-right darling by leading the effort to shut down government in 2013 and staking out reckless positions such as “carpet bombing” ISIS, abolishing the federal Department of Education, repudiating scientists on the ravages of climate change and calling for a flat-rate income tax that would fall most heavily on middle-class earners.

Which brings us to what the Boston Globe called the “reality-based wing” of the Republican Party. The two leading representatives of that wing are Kasich and freshman Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

At first blush, Rubio seems an appealing candidate, with his fresh-faced looks and appealing narrative as a son of Cuban immigrants who, at age 44, has already charted a rapid rise. But in the debates, Rubio showed himself to be a candidate who has trouble thinking more deeply than a soundbite and seems to have forgotten the millions of other immigrants who, like his family, have benefited from America’s welcome.

Less well-publicized, but just as disturbing, is the fact that Rubio is beholden to hard-right benefactors including Norman Braman, a billionaire auto dealer who has not only contributed $5 million or more to support Rubio’s candidacy but has also given jobs to the politician and his wife. More than any other Republican candidate, Rubio would enter the White House with little experience and a large debt to special interests.

Standing in contrast to these contenders is Kasich, who finished second in New Hampshire but has otherwise struggled to stay in the top group. If Republican voters in Massachusetts and at least some other states give him a strong endorsement on Super Tuesday, the Ohio governor could gain some momentum. If they pass him by, his candidacy will likely die.

Kasich is not an across-the-board moderate, and we are troubled by his efforts to thwart unions and slash funding for family planning and women’s health services, including abortion. For these reasons, some editors here asked whether we should withhold an endorsement.

But in the end, we decided Kasich was the best choice for Republican voters. He brings a deep experience in political consensus-building — spending 18 years in Congress and easily winning a second term as governor of a swing state — that the GOP and nation badly need.

Kasich considers himself a careful steward of public money, emphasizes the need for an international partnership to fight ISIS, and supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. And while he has taken the obligatory and shameful Republican public posture of opposing gay marriage, he gives a glimpse of his true feelings in saying, “Because somebody doesn’t think the way I do doesn’t mean that I can’t care about them or can’t love them.” Kasich’s clearest declaration of independence from hard-right orthodoxy came when, despite his public statements of opposition to Obamacare, he accepted the program’s expansion of Medicaid for the poor and disabled.

Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld endorsed Kasich earlier this week, while former Gov. Mitt Romney is said to be struggling with his pick. Thoughtful Republicans everywhere are hoping that a candidate will emerge who reflects the better angels of their tradition and provides a real alternative to a popular Democratic opponent. In our view, Kasich comes the closest to fitting that bill.