Inquirer endorsement: GOP, vote Kasich

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U.S. Republican presidential candidate and Ohio Governor John Kasich addresses a packed room at a town hall meeting in Savage, Maryland April 13, 2016 REUTERS/ Bryan Woolston

Usually at this point in the primary process, Pennsylvania voters are rubber-stamping a presumptive nominee who will cruise to a first-ballot nomination at the national convention. Not this year. On Tuesday, Keystone State Republicans can have an impact. They can send a message. And if the message is, We want a shot at putting Pennsylvania in the red column in November, their choice is clear: Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Start with experience. As governor since 2011, the 63-year-old Western Pennsylvania native has more time as an executive than his two GOP opponents combined - the kind in which you can't fire someone because you didn't get your way. He was also a state senator and served 18 years in Congress. On the House Armed Services Committee, he was a strong supporter of President Ronald Reagan's foreign policy. As chairman of the House Budget Committee in the '90s, he was part of the leadership team that helped produce balanced budgets. The lesson? A divided government need not be a gridlocked one.

He brought that sense of fiscal responsibility and emphasis on collaboration to the executive mansion in Ohio, turning budget deficits into surpluses and holding the line on taxes - but not at the expense of those who rely on a government safety net to get by.

Kasich is a conservative but not an ideologue. He bucked his party on Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, for example. And when Ohioans soundly rejected his push to restrict collective bargaining, the first-term governor accepted the rebuke graciously. Still, he would be overwhelmingly reelected in 2014 with 63.8 percent of the vote - in a state the GOP must carry to win this year.

The governor's independent streak is evident in his presidential campaign. For example, instead of bashing illegal immigrants, he would grant legal status to those who register and pay a fine. His courage to take such a view when other Republicans fear it would cost them votes is refreshing.

As is his recognition that the federal government has to start working again. "It's time to stop fighting one another," Kasich said in an endorsement meeting Thursday with the Inquirer Editorial Board.

Too bad his primary opponents haven't gotten the message.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is smart and long on conservative principles but short on leadership skills - which he showed by too often calling for government shutdowns when he couldn't get his way.

Donald Trump is a business executive who whines when he loses primaries and suggested there could be riots if he is not the nominee. The reality-show host and alleged billionaire - where are those tax returns? - has belittled prisoners of war, repeatedly insulted women, disrespected Mexicans and Muslims, and shown utter disregard for the honor and integrity of the military by suggesting that it would obey his unlawful orders. He also has proved incapable of grasping even the very basics of policy - any policy. Long campaigns demonstrate character, and Trump has chosen to show that he is neither conservative nor principled nor decent.

Granted, many voters want to send a message this year: The status quo isn't working. But getting things back on track starts with some basics - working well with others, doing your homework, standing up to bullies, and treating others as you expect to be treated - and requires a candidate with the best chance of running a competitive campaign in the fall. For Republicans on Tuesday, that candidate is JOHN KASICH.