John Kasich considers his next act
Posted June 12
It's just before 8 a.m., and John Kasich is in a crowded New York City green room.
He's waiting to go on "CBS This Morning," and the room feels especially cramped at the moment because there are two minor entourages here. One is his, and another is for Spencer Rascoff, the CEO of online real estate company Zillow, who will also be a guest on the show. There's a curved teal couch and a coffee table with two Emmy Awards and the day's newspapers on it, all with front-page stories about the terrorist attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.
Kasich's here to talk about his new book, "Two Paths: America Divided or United," and the news of the day. There's President Donald Trump's proposed budget (it "isn't going to pass," he says) and the opioid epidemic (Ohio's No. 3 for opioid deaths, according to a graphic on the screen, and drugs are "destroying the culture of our country," he says), but he also wants to talk about Manchester. He has two 17-year-old daughters, twins and music fans, and just this past weekend he was at Rock on the Range, a three-day festival in Columbus, he says.
Kasich's a big concert-goer and he likes talking about music, something that came up every so often during the campaign. He recently went to a Maroon 5 concert with his wife and was surprised to realize just how many hits they have. He'll soon see fellow Ohioans, Twenty One Pilots, who went to Worthington Christian, the same school his daughters now go to, and who he was rooting for a year before they released a No. 1 album. In 2014, speaking about the musicians that the Ohio State Fair books, he said they need acts that are "on the way up," according to the Columbus Dispatch. "We ought to book Twenty One Pilots. My daughters love them; they're from here."
Kasich asks the assembled green room if they've heard of Tricky. Tricky's a British rapper in his late 40s, whose highest-charting song on the UK charts was a reworked version of "Milk" by the band Garbage that he was featured on. It peaked at No. 10 in 1996. Madonna once asked him to produce one of her albums, but he turned her down, he told the Guardian last year.
Tricky did a song with Hawkman, Kasich says, have you heard about Hawkman? What about Live? One of the guys from Live is on Tricky's "Evolution Revolution." Doug, can you pull the song up. Doug, a member of Kasich's entourage, pulls out a phone and plays it.
In addition to music, Kasich also likes talking about jobs, especially whenever he has an audience with a job maker, such as the CEO of an online real estate company, as he does now. Does Zillow employ anyone in Ohio, he asks? "Why not?"
A member of Rascoff's entourage reminds him they do; they bought a Cincinnati start-up back in 2015 called DotLoop that does online real estate document paperwork and had 124 employees. "We need to have more of your people out there," Kasich says. "You want to be in the Midwest."
Kasich pulls out his phone, a flip phone, and calls a guy named Wayne and hands the phone to Rascoff.
"We want to have something like Zillow in Ohio," Kasich says in the car after his CBS hit. "It's consistent with what's happening in the state." If they have a job they need to fill, "I will get it filled."
Speaking of jobs, Kasich has called his current gig -- being the governor of the great state of Ohio -- the second-best in the world, after president of the United States. The job of president, of course, he applied and was one of the finalists for -- the fourth-place Republican primary finisher -- but he ultimately wasn't hired. And the job of governor he won't be able to keep forever, because of term limits. In 20 months, he'll find himself unemployed.
It's an unusual time to be a Republican looking for work. In Washington, the party is in power, but weighed down by dysfunction and controversy. Trump's 2016 victory caught many by surprise, forcing politicians who assumed they'd have the option of running against a President Hillary Clinton in four years to reconsider their options. No one seems sure of what exactly to expect, with each new twist, turn, and congressional testimony bringing greater uncertainty.
The 2016 election caught many off-guard, including Republican politicians who assumed they'd have the option to run for president in four years, against Clinton. Trump's surprise victory complicated those plans, leaving potential 2020 Republicans to contemplate their options.
Kasich's resume includes the Ohio state legislature at age 26, the US House of Representative at 32, and chairman of the House Budget Committee at 43. He worked for Lehman Brothers, "Two Paths" is his fourth book, and from 2002 to 2007, he hosted his own show on Fox News, "From The Heartland with John Kasich," filmed in Columbus, Ohio. He's obviously talented and ambitious, and will have plenty of options when his successor, the 70th governor of the great state of Ohio, whoever it is, is sworn into office in January 2019. But the two jobs he says are the best, both in a field he's been working in since his 20s, aren't available to him. What does a politician do when he's done with politics?
Kasich isn't really a talk-radio-and-Fox-News Republican, which is ironic considering he filled in for Bill O'Reilly on occasion in the 2000s. But he is a Wall-Street-Journal-and-"The-View" Republican, quite literally in fact. Both are on the schedule today, a sit-down with the Journal's editorial board and co-hosting duties on "The View." It's a rare combination to find a politician who feels as comfortable discussing pop culture as he does policy.
"I stay very much in touch with pop culture," he says in the car on the way to "The View." "I know that Katy Perry is fighting with Taylor Swift."
He refuses to take a side in the great pop beef of our time. And it's not just because he doesn't want to get in the middle of such a divisive issue. Back in 2016, speaking about the Republican National Convention, he said it would "probably be less Kardashians, more who's going to be president," before politely adding, "not that I have anything against the Kardashians." He's true to his agreeable and positive political brand even when he's talking about reality TV families or rifts between two of music's top titans.
Kasich, not a Trump fan (he said he wrote in "John McCain" when he voted in November), ended up skipping the RNC, despite it being held in his state, but still managed to do so relatively affably. "That's not where I think I need to be in terms of what I have stood for throughout the presidential campaign," he told the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at the time.
As a co-host on "The View," Kasich must join a pre-show meeting to go over a list of topics they could possibly discuss. Also on the show today will be 2 Chainz, the rapper and would-be mayor of College Park, Georgia. Kasich got to meet him beforehand. He was "somber," Kasich says, before thinking it over again. "Maybe 'quiet' is a better word," he says. "I kept trying to talk to him about Tricky."
"The View" begins at 11 a.m. The Katy Perry-Taylor Swift feud is the first topic Whoopi Goldberg brings up. "Can you explain what the hell is going on with Taylor Swift and Katy Perry?" she asks Kasich.
"It's shocking everybody," he says. "You know what the thing is, don't ever steal anybody's dancers."
Taylor kind of went into hiding, he says, but she has a new sound coming. "She put out the song 'I Don't Want to Live Forever' with Zayn, who who's a One Direction guy," he says. "Then she wrote the song with Calvin Harris -- who's a big DJ, you all know that -- and that was a song called 'Lightning'" Rihanna recorded.
The Calvin Harris-Rihanna song is actually called "This Is What You Came For," but no one appeared to know that to correct him. In his defense, the word "lightning" does appear five times in the song, and the artwork for the single features a lightning bolt, a lightning bolt that also appeared on a jacket Taylor wore on Instagram 12 days before Calvin tweeted it as the single's artwork, so it's not exactly the worst gaffe he could make. Other than that, he sounds like a dedicated, attentive Swiftie.
Sometimes, people think Kasich only knows his stuff because of his daughters, but he says otherwise. "I know a few things they don't know."
When 2 Chainz comes out, Joy Behar asks him about his desire to run for his hometown's mayor. He makes the I'm-looking-at-you motion to Kasich with his fingers and Kasich offers a word of advice: "Just make sure you drop the 'yo,' though." It's not exactly clear what he means by that, but Whoopi immediately looks straight to camera with an expression that suggests she's not amused. It's a moment Fader will call "extremely awkward," Spin will say was "completely bizarre," and Noisey will describe as "a Shakespeare drama."
Kasich says stuff like "The View" is what he really has fun doing. "People have a hard time visualizing people in politics having fun," he says. But back home, the reaction when people found out he'd be on the show was how cool it was. "It's obviously a popular show." Later in the day, he'll joke that he's hoping to get a "permanent job" co-hosting.
During the campaign, Kasich compared himself to generic soda. "There's Coke, there's Pepsi, and there's Kasich," he said once on "Morning Joe." "I'm trying to get brand now." The month he announced his candidacy, in July 2015, only 35% of Republicans had an opinion of him, according to Gallup, the lowest in the field.
Twenty-two months and more than 4.1 million Republican primary votes later, I ask him if he's found his brand yet, and what it is. "Agreeable and positive," he says.
Kasich was the last moderate standing in the wild 2016 Republican primary, his Midwestern nice persona an anomaly in an otherwise ugly campaign. Politics used to be less nasty, nearly 40 years ago when he was first elected to public office. "People could get along better," he says. But, "as people started getting more persnickety with each other, the leaders didn't tell them to stop," he said. A few hours later, Greg Gianforte, the Republican House candidate in Montana, will be charged with assaulting a reporter after the reporter asked him a question about healthcare. Less than three weeks later, Gianforte will plead guilty to assault, be fined $300 and sentenced to 40 hours community service the same day, Kasich will be speaking at the University of Miami, encouraging students to "help others when you can and chase your dreams."
The weather's good and the traffic's bad, and Kasich spends the afternoon walking to his remaining media hits, sans jacket. He's recognized in a crosswalk and asked to take a selfie. Later, in Central Park, there's a Minnesota family that gets their own photo with him ("Senator Kasich," the dad calls him), and a man walks up to him and asks whether Trump's reached impeachment territory. "I'm not a reporter," the stranger adds, as if hoping to elicit a more off-the-record response. Kasich says he wants the truth to come out, and notes there's already a reporter with him anyway.
Whatever Kasich ultimately does do when time as governor of Ohio comes up, there's one question in particular he's been thinking about: "How does one keep a voice out there?"
"We think about it," he says. "Maybe it's not meant to be."
It's just before 2 p.m. and sitting in the Wall Street Journal newsroom before his meeting with the editorial board interview, I ask him if there are any former politicians who've done a good job keeping their voice when they're no longer in office. He lists Al Gore, George Schultz and Condoleezza Rice.
"They had different positions," though, he says. "They were in the stratosphere," a vice president, and a pair of secretaries of state, for Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, respectively.
How do you keep a voice when you're not in the stratosphere? When you're a governor of Ohio, a fourth-place 2016 Republican primary finisher -- by no means small feats, but not all the way up there -- how do you remain a voice? A Tricky in a world of Taylors and Katys and Twenty One Pilots. For Kasich, that answer lies in his Christian faith, he says.
The Lord will determine if he has a voice or not, he says: "It's a higher power that shines a light on you."