Kasich: The Unlikely Hero of Debate Seven

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Emily Munson

Thursday night’s debate, presented by Fox News and Google, gave Republican candidates their last opportunity to face off before the Iowa Caucuses. Both the main-stage moderators and debaters – Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Rand Paul – began with jokes about the biggest “elephant not in the room”: Donald Trump. Yet his silence permitted viewers to listen to the nuanced differences of opinion among the other candidates. This debate was not about who could drop the biggest bomb, whether from his arsenal or from his lips, but about who could best position Americans to thrive.

The unlikely hero of the night was Kasich, who had two stellar moments. First, in response to being asked about Flint’s lead crisis, Kasich stated that, as a public servant, “you realize that people depend on you. And so, you go the extra mile… [When] people at home are saying they’ve got a problem, listen to them.” Although he didn’t have time to go into specifics during the debate, Kasich’s record does suggest responsiveness to his constituents. Recently, I read about his efforts to introduce Employment First policies into Ohio, policies that mandate administrative bodies presume all people with disabilities are capable of competitive, integrated employment and oust sheltered workshops as the default placement.

In his second notable response, Kasich spoke about his decision to expand Medicaid in Ohio. His answer is worth quoting, at least in part:

We took the growth of Medicaid from over 10 percent in my second budget to 2.5 percent – without cutting off one person or cutting one benefit – because we innovated the government. And now mom and dad can stay in their own home, rather than being forced into a nursing home.… How has it worked? Well, we have treated the drug-addicted in our prisons and we released them into the community, and our recidivism rate is less than 20 percent.… The mentally ill? They’ve been stepped on for too long in this society, and we are beginning to treat them.… Give people a chance.… Everybody ought to have a chance to be able to rise to their God-given purpose.

Kasich clearly “gets it.” People with disabilities have the ability to contribute, rendering them assets to society. He is also willing to enact novel reforms that can support the needs of people with disabilities, while also saving taxpayer dollars. It’s additionally important to recognize that Kasich mentioned people with disabilities independently, without prompting from any of the moderators.

The biggest disappointment of the night was Cruz, who, although clearly an intelligent individual, demonstrated obtuse notions about the real world. For example, Cruz stated that he “will repeal every word of Obamacare.” So Cruz would gladly regress to a time where insurance companies could discriminate against individuals on the basis of pre-existing conditions? Catching himself – although the Affordable Care Act is far from ideal, there are some provisions that the overwhelming majority of Americans do support – Cruz went on to say that “everyone agrees we need health care reform.” Specifically, he proposed letting people purchase insurance across state lines, expanding health savings accounts (HSAs), and separating insurance from employment. Um… How are people supposed to purchase insurance without money or jobs? Is Cruz aware that IRS regulations prohibit Medicaid recipients from setting up HSAs? Does he understand that catastrophic care coverage is not going to help those in need of long-term care?

In sum, those who expressed a positive vision for America’s future – Kasich, as well as Rubio, who I have blogged about previously – did very well last night. It is my hope that their voices and, more importantly, their ideas finally receive the attention due. While an ideologue like Cruz may argue that Kasich and Rubio aren’t the truest elephants in the room (e.g., he would argue they are Republicans in name only), they certainly situated themselves as the most humane.

Contact: Emily Munson