The Kasich Conundrum
Image: Associated Press

A knowing, self-aware laughter came over the crowd at the Q Conference in April. Gabe Lyons, the founder of Q, revealed the survey results of conference attendees to show that among the five remaining presidential candidates it was John Kasich who took the plurality of the vote. It was not even close. Among the more than 1,000 evangelical leaders at the event, Kasich received 49 percent of their support. Ted Cruz came a distant second at 18 percent, and Hillary Clinton garnered 16 percent. Donald Trump had the support of only 2 percent of attendees. It is eerie to read these survey results from the Q Conference in light of the recent developments in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. After a resounding victory for Trump in Indiana, Cruz has dropped out of the race, and Kasich suspended his own candidacy yesterday, leaving Trump as the Republicans’ presumptive nominee.

This moment is ironically symbolic of the 2016 GOP presidential race and of Kasich’s campaign in particular. The vast majority of Americans chose not to vote for a politician precisely because of the very characteristics that many evangelicals, like those at Q, like about him.

At a time when incivility is perceived as courage, and a lack of anger equated to a lack of understanding, Kasich is the odd man out.

In this upside-down presidential election, Kasich was the most offensive candidate running.

How so? His faith hurt him more than it helped. Laura Ortberg Turner described this dynamic in an article in Politico, “How Kasich’s Religion is Hurting Him with Conservatives.” Kasich is a member of the Anglican Church of North America, formed following a split with the Episcopal Church over divisions regarding biblical authority and the sacrament of marriage, among other issues. Kasich has belonged to a small group of men that have met every week for more than 20 years, which is the subject of his 2010 book, Every Other Monday. He also contributed a short chapter to a book celebrating the life and ideas of Dallas Willard.

For reasons of disposition or conviction, Kasich’s faith typically comes out as a sort of natural consequence of the circumstances. To my knowledge, he has not delivered a “faith” speech. He has not spoken at Liberty University like Cruz and Trump did. His campaign did not have a staffer dedicated to religious outreach, unlike the campaigns of Cruz, Rubio, Bush, and Carson. As Turner pointed out, Kasich explained to reporters that he thinks it “cheapens God…to go out and try to win a vote by using God.”

Yet, his faith is evident for those paying attention. At the outset of his campaign, Kasich told TheAtlantic’s Molly Ball that he had been contemplating “some things that are extremely personal—what is my purpose in life?” In a visit to an Orthodox Jewish bookstore, he engaged Jewish students in a conversation on Scripture and his views on Abraham, Moses, and the Passover. These expressions seem devoid of any discernable political benefit, and exchanges like the one at the bookstore seem politically counter-productive with his target audience at the time. In an era of micro-managed, micro-targeted campaigns, such excursions are offensive.

Odd Man Out

Kasich claims his faith leads him to positions that fall outside of party doctrine. In a room full of donors convened by the Koch brothers, Kasich was asked by one woman why he agreed to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, extending health insurance to more low-income people. Many conservatives disapproved of the decision because they believe it undermined congressional efforts to repeal Obamacare. Kasich responded, in front of an audience of wealthy, libertarian-leaning donors: “I don’t know about you, lady, but when I get to the pearly gates, I’m going to have an answer for what I’ve done for the poor.” According to Politico, about 20 donors left the room and his fellow panelists, Gov. Nikki Haley and Gov. Bobby Jindal, spoke up to disagree. Kasich has not been invited back to a Koch gathering since.

September
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The Kasich Conundrum