Jonathan Chait

Annals Of Wall Street Populism

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In the late 1990s, there was a John Kasich boomlet of sorts. Kasich essentially pioneered the approach that George W. Bush perfected in 2000. He crafted a persona as a moderate Republican who deviated from party orthodoxy in his pursuit of populist policies. The persona was almost entirely fraudulent -- Kasich was perfectly in sync with the party establishment, but, like Bush, he successfully sold it to the national press corps by focusing their attention on his regular-guy persona.

Kasich wound up not running for president, and instead pursued a lucrative career on Wall Street and at Fox News. Now, however, he's running for Ohio governor, and this can't be helping:

In his final year on the job as managing director for Lehman Brothers, Republican gubernatorial candidate John Kasich was paid $614,892, which included a base salary of $182,692 and more than twice that amount in a bonus, $432,200.

Such a fitting turn of events. I wrote about Kasich in 1998:

[Y]ou didn't have to read the Times profile to acquire an appreciation for Kasich's down-home virtue--indeed it's been the theme of nearly everything that has been written about him. A profile in George revealed that Kasich "places his trust in the human heart, not in the corridors of power," and that "he has not lost faith in the basic bucket-brigade goodness of Americans, the binding energy that infused towns like McKees Rocks." A New Yorker profile from last year reported that Kasich's inspiration to fight for balanced budgets came at a gas station in his adopted hometown of Columbus, Ohio, when "a stranger at the next pump said, 'Hey, Kasich, why don't you stop complaining and do something about it?'" From this tale we were supposed to infer several things: Kasich is humble enough not to mind when constituents brusquely call out his last name; his views on the issues derive from the people; and he even pumps his own gas.

Eventually, if you read enough of Kasich's press clippings, they begin to blend together in a gauzy haze of apple-pie bromides. John Kasich is charming, energetic, and boyishly handsome. He is deeply religions yet without a trace of sanctimony. He is a plainspoken regular guy who believes in honest budgetary discipline. He listens to rock music and wears goofy ties.

The appeal of Kasich isn't intellectual; it's characterological. "I'm not anti-government," he has written. "I'm a blue-collar kid from McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania." It's as if any question about his views could be answered with an affirmation of his identity.

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