Finley: Kasich won’t pimp values to win race

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Here’s the attitude John Kasich conveys as we ride across Detroit in his campaign bus: “I’ll be your president if you want me. And if you choose me, I’ll go to work building on the nation’s fundamental strengths to make things better both at home and abroad.

“But if you don’t want me, that’s OK. I’ll go back to Ohio and finish out a very successful governorship.”

Kasich differs from the rest of the Republican field in one key way: He’s not so desperate to win that he’ll cheapen himself by embracing the values of the mob or embarrass himself by joining the free-for-all fist fight that this race has shamefully become.

“It’s a really pathetic way to pick a president,” Kasich says. “Whoever has the best sound bite is how we’re going pick a president? You don’t solve a crisis with sound bites. But it’s what we have.”

He’d just as soon stay out of the debate stage brawling.

“I’m not going to spend my time on the back and forth negative, because I don’t think that’s what people want,” Kasich says. “And it’s not what I want to do.”

What he does want to do is meet with a couple hundred voters at a time in town halls like the one he held in Livonia this week, explaining, among other things, his vision for making the federal government smaller by shifting responsibility for education, roads, welfare and other core government functions to the states, along with the funding to manage them.

But civil forums that probe a candidate’s record and positions are not what’s holding sway in this campaign. Nor are reputations for mature, competent leadership.

If they were, Kasich would be atop the race, instead of struggling to hold onto a mid-pack position.

Republican voters, so far, are gorging on the red meat tossed at them by Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. They’ve convinced themselves a candidate who appalls three-quarters of the country can somehow rally a victory in November. Or that an electorate at best one-third conservative will give a majority vote to a hard right-winger.

Even as the field culls, that dynamic doesn’t change. In Michigan, Trump is expected to come out well ahead in a Detroit News/WDIV-TV Ch. 4 poll to be released later Thursday, with Cruz a distant second.

Look for Kasich where he’s been throughout the campaign — well down the list.

And yet he’s not going to alter his approach or his attitude. He’s not buying into the theory of an angry electorate.

“I don’t sense the anger,” he says. “They’re worried. They’re worried about their kids having a decent life. ‘Am I going to keep my job?’ ‘Am I going to be able to retire?’ The country can be fixed, we’re just not fixing it. We’re strong, but we’re drifting.”

Kasich is among those who believe the noise cranked by the front-runners will eventually fade, and his quieter, hopeful message will be heard at last.

Throughout our bus ride, Kasich does not speak a single ill word about any of his competitors. He’s proud of quietly living the Christian values Cruz and Marco Rubio shout about from the podium. He’s all class and confidence.

I’ve interviewed most of the candidates in the presidential race. Only a very few left me with the feeling they could be president.

Kasich is among that tiny group.

Nolan Finley’s new book, “Little Red Hen: A Collection of Columns from Detroit’s Conservative Voice,” is available from Amazon, iBooks and Barnes & Noble Nook.