Kasich: GOP cure or party placebo?

GOP presidential hopeful John Kasich meets with the Inquirer and Daily News editorial boards.

Update: John Baer's Monday column cited Gov. Wolf's approval rating at 31 percent, based on recent polling. A new  NBC News/Wall St. Journal poll released after the column was written shows the governor's approval rating now at 45 percent.

DURING 20 years in Congress (1977-97), Bob Walker represented Lancaster and Lebanon counties in central Pennsylvania as one of the most conservative members of the House, aligned with the likes of Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott.

These days, Walker's walking with John Kasich as the Ohio governor vies for Pennsylvania's attention ahead of Tuesday's GOP primary.

This strikes me a bit odd.

So I chat with Walker during his and Kasich's visit to Inquirer/Daily News editorial boards last week.

I note Kasich supporters tend to be moderate Republicans such as former Govs. Dick Thornburgh and Tom Ridge and Allentown U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, and ask why Walker's in Kasich's crew.

Here's what he said: "Because I worked with him in Congress, because he knows how to get things done and because I always base my support on courage and character, and he has both."

Kasich is also backed by state Senate President Joe Scarnati, recipient of a "2013 Conservative Award" from the American Conservative Union.

So as the GOP rends itself asunder, Kasich got support along its ideological spectrum.

Is he a cure for the GOP? Or a party placebo with no therapeutic effect, a control used when testing new "cures" such as you-know-who and you-know-who.

Polling says Kasich loses our primary and is least likely of remaining candidates to win nomination, absent some multiballot magic in Cleveland.

Still, during his ed-board session, several thoughts washed across what's left of my mind (it's that kind of year).

First, this guy knows his stuff, is feisty, experienced and, compared to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, sensible.

"I should get a gold star," he said, noting he didn't give other candidates juvenile nicknames, didn't make jokes about anybody's hand size, is outspent 50-to-1 and yet is still in the race.

OK, with the bar as low as it is for gold stars, maybe; as far as still in the race, maybe not.

But his overall approach is refreshing.

He sees government as the last resort for problem solving, he thinks America's spirit is lost if citizens want everything done "through some lawmaker" and he says real changes "come from the people."

Sounds like he feels the Bern, no?

Kasich's a tad annoying, often brusque, but has actual accomplishments, a fact ignored in this substance-free election.

In Congress, chairing the House Budget Committee in '97, he helped seal a deal to balance the federal budget, no small feat.

In Ohio, he erased a multibillion-dollar deficit, cut taxes and expanded Medicare, earning an approval rating - in a state Barack Obama won twice - of 62 percent. (Gov. Wolf's is 31 percent.)

So he'd carry Ohio. And no Republican ever was elected president without it. And general-election polls say he beats Hillary Clinton, while Trump and Cruz do not.

I know polls change. I know Kasich hasn't had much of a campaign. I know he hasn't the resources to tout being a Pennsylvanian - from blue-collar McKees Rocks outside Pittsburgh.

But he's not a shouting wall salesman or a moralistic first-term senator. He's exactly what his party recommended in its Growth and Opportunity Project report issued after losing the popular vote in five of the last six presidential races.

It called GOP governors "America's reformers in chief," delivering on conservative promises of smaller government "while making people's lives better." And it suggested the party turn to "successful Republicans on the state level."

Makes sense.

But I guess it was proffered as a party placebo rather than an actual cure.

baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer