NEWARK, Del. — The setting: the campus of the University of Delaware.
The lesson: How to bridge the partisan divide.
The professors: two guys with similar blue-collar Pennsylvania backgrounds whose presidential stock has risen in the era of Trump toxicity — former Vice President Joe Biden and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
They disagreed Tuesday on the question of free speech on campus.
Biden, a Democrat who hails from Scranton, told the students here it is “simply wrong” when conservative speeches get shut down on campuses such as the University of California-Berkeley.
“We hurt ourselves badly when we don’t allow the speech to take place,” he said. “If your idea is big enough, it should be able to compete.”
Kasich, a Republican who grew up outside of Pittsburgh, disagreed, saying he supported the president of Ohio State University in refusing to allow a recent event that he said would have featured “hate speech.”
“We’re not talking about people who have diverse ideas,” Kasich said. “We’re talking about people who are there to …”
As he trailed off, Biden offered “to incite?”
“Exactly,” Kasich replied.
Both men agreed that partisan rancor is at an unacceptable level. They took turns dating it to the rise of Newt Gingrich as speaker of the U.S. House, the impeachment of then-President Bill Clinton and, more recently, a congressman yelling “You lie!” during President Obama’s 2009 State of The Union address.
And they agreed that economic uncertainty was a central factor in the 2016 presidential race, creating a result that worsened the problem.
Biden turned his ire on President Trump’s approach to governing since then while Kasich, who did note his refusal to endorse Trump after the GOP primaries, lamented American culture gone awry.
“It going to sound trite but leadership matters,” said Biden, who said a European foreign minister — he didn’t identify the country — compared Trump to “Il Duce,” the Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini.
“No joke! No joke,” Biden exclaimed when the audience burst out in laughter. “That’s what people are thinking.”
Kasich rattled off corporate beaches of trust, from Equifax’s data breach to Wells Fargo’s banking scandal. He also made a veiled reference to the film producer Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment imbroglio, and cited Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot’s appeal of a suspension due to allegations of domestic violence.
“As I look across our culture, I begin to wonder, have we lost our way,” Kasich said.
The advice both men offered the students could be distilled to this: Listen to people you don’t agree with and consider how they think.
One subject that didn’t come up: the 2020 presidential election.
Kasich, speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, dodged when asked if he would be a candidate for president in three years.
Biden in June announced a new political action committee, American Possibilities, refreshing talk of the White House ambitions he set aside in 2016. He didn’t address the topic Tuesday. The men were not available to the media.
Tuesday’s discussion was promoted by the PAC, Kasich for America, that the Ohio governor used in his 2016 run for president.
And it was hosted by the University of Delaware’s new Biden Institute, another venture that prompted speculation about the former vice president’s 2020 ambitions.
Editors Note: This story was corrected to reflect the university Gov. John Kasich referred to in a discussion of hate speech was Ohio State University, not Ohio University.