This is the first in a series of articles on the 2016 American presidential candidates.
None of the 2016 presidential candidates are in total agreement with Catholic social teachings on all of the issues. From the perspective of the whole broad range of issues, John Kasich is in accord with Catholic values on some issues but not on other issues.
John R. Kasich is the Republican governor of Ohio, having served since 2011. Besides this executive experience, he also has extensive legislative experience at the national level, having served 18 years in the House of Representatives (1983-2001), including service on the Armed Services Committee and chairman of the Budget Committee. During his chairmanship of the Budget Committee, the federal budget was balanced and the national debt reduced for one of the few times in modern American history.
Kasich was born a Catholic (of Czech and Croatian ancestry); however, he drifted away from his Catholic faith and now worships at an Anglican church. Judging from his positions, he still seems to retain many of the Catholic values of his upbringing.
Kasich is generally considered a mainstream conservative Republican, though in the 2016 field of Republican candidates, he is considered one of the most moderate ones.
Kasich is pro-life, though not to the full extent of being in complete accord with Catholic teachings. He opposes abortion in most cases, but supports exceptions for rape, incest, and risk to the life of the mother. He recently signed a bill to defund Planned Parenthood in Ohio. In Ohio, Kasich has started programs to provide help to pregnant mothers and streamline the adoption process to make it easier to adopt children. He has signed 16 bills in Ohio that make it more difficult to obtain an abortion. It is said that under Kasich’s administration abortions have been reduced to a historic low point in Ohio.
Although Kasich is in general opposed to same-sex marriage, he received a great amount of attention by attending a same-sex marriage ceremony last year. He defended his attendance at the ceremony at a Republican presidential debate, stating that “[b]ecause somebody doesn’t think the way I do doesn’t mean that I can’t care about them or can’t love them.” Kasich has said he supports “traditional marriage” and while in Congress voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act (1995). However, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same sex marriage, Kasich said that the ruling was “the law of the land and we’ll abide by it” and that it was “time to move on” to other issues. He said that he is not in favor of a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman. So although Kasich’s sentiments are in favor of traditional marriage as held by the Catholic Church, in practice he been for allowing the trend toward same sex marriage to go unchallenged.
As governor of Ohio, Kasich accepted Medicaid expansion under the 2010 Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Since most Republicans oppose Obamacare, this took a great deal of courage. It shows Kasich’s commitment to health care for all, putting it above partisan politics. Since in Catholic teaching, health care (part of the basic right to life) is a basic human right, this action puts Kasich alone in this area, separate from the other Republican candidates. In general, however, Kasich, like most of the Republican candidates, has said that if elected president, he would “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act. In Ohio, he has reduced health care expenses under the Medicaid expansion he accepted, and he has said that he would use the same formula in replacing the Affordable Care Act. This involves working with insurance companies and providers to provide higher quality and lower priced care. In a CNN town hall, Kasich described a vague formula that would give a “financial reward” to providers who provide higher quality care at costs below a “midpoint.” “Quality” would be defined by measures such as readmission rates and infection rates. This sounds difficult to manage objectively. At any rate, Kasich said he would leave it up to each state to decide how to manage its own health care system. All of this gets quite complicated, and from the point of view of Catholic social justice, it is hard to determine whether this is an especially good plan or not.
On immigration, Kasich favors “building a wall” to secure the border, a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the United States, and a guest worker program. He has said it would be “silly” to ship the 11 million illegal immigrants back across the border. The path to citizenship is in accord with the position of the United States bishops and the statements of Pope Francis favoring compassion for immigrants in their attempt to achieve a better life in the United States. Kasich’s position has evolved and is not very clear, but it seems more in accord with positions expressed by the Catholic hierarchy than those of most Republican candidates.
Kasich supports a typical Republican approach to the economy: lower income and business taxes, less government regulation, and freeing up private enterprise to produce more jobs and a more prosperous economy. In Ohio under Kasich, the estate tax was eliminated, income taxes were cut, and the state moved from a $6-8 billion shortfall to a $2 billion “rainy day fund.” In 2011, Governor Kasich signed a bill that would take away collective bargaining rights from public employee unions in Ohio, but Ohio voters repealed the bill in a referendum and he was forced to admit defeat. This attempt to weaken unions was not in accord with Catholic teachings supporting the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively. In the gap between his service in Congress and as governor, Kasich was employed in the Columbus, Ohio, office of the Wall Street investment firm Lehman Brothers, which went bankrupt in the crash of 2008. On the campaign trail, Kasich joked that he didn’t think his service in the two-person Columbus office of Lehman Brothers was a significant factor in the company’s collapse. From a Catholic perspective, working for a Wall Street investment firm is may be morally acceptable, but it does not necessarily demonstrate a particular commitment to the Catholic value of a preferential option to help the poor. Overall, Kasich’s economic positions and practice, however successful from a purely economic standpoint, do not demonstrate a particularly strong commitment to Catholic values.
On the environment, Kasich has said he believes climate change is real and a problem, but he is unsure what causes it. In Ohio, he froze implementation of a law that called for increasing the state’s reliance on renewable energy. Kasich supports oil fracking in Ohio state parks and forests, though he did support an increase in the tax on fracking. As a presidential candidate, Kasich supports using energy from a wide variety of sources, but does not favor any particular encouragement to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. He favors completing the Keystone XL pipeline. Catholic teaching has supported care for the environment and Pope Francis has made care for the environment an especial emphasis of his papacy. Francis’s recent encyclical Laudato Si has explicitly said that climate change is human-caused and has called for vigorous measures to combat it. Kasich’s positions are not in close accord to these Catholic positions.
National security is normally the most bipartisan of issues in American politics. Americans generally unite all the more against foreign threats to our safety the more dangerous the threat is. Still, there are often differences of approach, as there are today. Kasich has experience in national defense, and a quite impressive record and positions. On the House Armed Services Committee in the 1980s, Kasich fought to cut certain weapons systems, such as the B-2 and A-12 bombers, that he considered unnecessary in the interest of reducing government spending. In the Republican presidential debates, he favored a multi-lateral approach of obtaining the support of Sunni Arabs and Arab states to build a wide coalition to oppose ISIS (the Islamic State). This seems to be a wise policy more in accord with President George H. W. Bush’s policy in the 1991 Gulf War than the unilateral policy of President George W. Bush in the 2003 Iraq War. However, he in general supports more aggressive foreign policies than President Obama, such as sending American ground troops to fight ISIS and sending an American carrier group to confront China in the disputed regions of the South China Sea. Catholic teachings regarding national security revolve around just war theory, in which government uses of force must meet the criteria of a “just war” (the action must be for a just cause, it must be a last resort, it must result in more good than harm, and there must be a reasonable chance of success). Whether these criteria are met in particular circumstances is difficult to determine, so it is hard to say whether Kasich’s policies abide by Catholic teachings.
Kasich’s personality seems to contain some characteristics that would be positive in a president. Throughout the campaign, he has refrained from personal attacks on the other Republican candidates. His manner of speaking is temperate and reasonable, avoiding the extreme, emotional rhetoric of many of the other candidates. Probably more than any other candidate, Democratic or Republican, he has demonstrated compassion toward marginalized or less fortunate people. In Ohio his budgets have increased funding for treating the mentally ill and addicts. On the campaign trail, Kasich was perhaps the only candidate to speak out in the debates in favor of increased help for the mentally ill. He has had some remarkable encounters at some of the many town hall meetings he has held, such as when he walked over and embraced a young man who described the personal struggles he had gone through.
One point in Kasich’s favor is that he is the Republican candidate that stands the best chance of defeating pro-choice Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in the November general election. According to RealClearPolitics.com, on an average of the most recent polls, Kasich beats Clinton by 7.4 percentage points, Marco Rubio by 4.7, Ted Cruz by 0.8, Ben Carson loses to Clinton by 1.3, and Donald Trump loses by 2.8. By an analogy with one of the criteria of Catholic just war theory, if all of the acceptable candidates are imperfect (which I would argue they are), then one can make an argument that the acceptable candidate who has the best chance of success against an unacceptable candidate (which from the Catholic perspective the pro-choice Clinton is) should be supported.
Overall, then, like all of the 2016 presidential candidates, Democratic and Republican, John Kasich has a mixed record when compared to Catholic teachings. Like most Republicans, Kasich has a relatively strong record on social issues, but as a relative moderate, he has some positions on other issues that are closer to Democratic positions and more in accord with Catholic teachings than most of his Republican rivals.