Ronald Reagan’s trademark slogan in 1980, when he wanted to disarm and disparage what then-President Jimmy Carter said in debates, was: “There you go again.”
Mr. Reagan’s indelible, artfully crafted phrase rings true today, especially when career Republican politicians see themselves as “CEOs” ready to right the wrongs of government.
For billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump, who continues to defy political gravity, showing the elite Beltway pundit crowd as herds of high-paid know-nothings whose insights rest on yesterday’s headlines, CEO status is the real deal. Trump may not be entirely self-made, but he oversees a vast private sector empire yet has zero elected political experience. Instead of his lack of public time on the job working against him, his supporters, who grow by the day as polling shows, consider it a strong asset indicating he can’t be bought. He says business will do better than ever once he “Makes America Great Again.”
There He Goes Again
Then there are CEO posers, like 63-year old Ohio Gov. John Kasich. He has never owned or run a private operation, instead, he’s become a rich political celebrity after decades of drinking from the public trough. Casting himself as a CEO like Mr. Trump, he hints that he’ll listen to others but those who know him find it hard to believe his mind can be changed. Virgin ears in the Granite State may be lulled by his guy-next-door come-on, but it’s transparently false as any reporter who minds the gap between his rhetoric and record should know if they think they still deserve their Fourth Estate press badges.
For some Fifth Estate reporters, Mr. Kasich is hardly a CEO with a “big heart” who works for the less fortunate, lifting them up no matter their circumstances. Hard statistics show Ohio lagging in jobs with stagnant wages and rising poverty.
Gov. Kasich, the former Catholic church alter boy who wanted to become a priest but found politics more fun and lucrative, casts government with original sin. He promises to rein in spending and reduce regulations. His fondness to profile himself a chief executive in the style of or on a par with Mr. Trump is funny and sad, indeed. Now 63-years old, the former 18-year congressman and Fox News political talk show host believes the public sector was created to be handmaiden to the private sector, always giving, never taking. The twice-elected and now term-limited governor says government doesn’t create jobs, but then talks about how he took a “dead state” and turned it around with income tax cuts and a balanced budgets.
In New Hampshire with 36 days before voters cast their ballot choices for president, Republicans and Democrats are making their case for why themselves and not somebody else. Gov. Kasich finds himself desperately seeking attention as he goes up against the likes of Donald Trump, who thrashes him in the Granite State and every where else, and other formidable GOP challengers like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush. Each of them has either more money than Camp Kasich or can out command him on virtually any topic of importance this election cycle. If it’s fighting ISIS or teachers’ unions, Gov. Kasich has nothing new to offer versus his GOP colleagues, and the polls show this to be true. What Kasich does stand out in, though, is his unlikeability, a manifestation of his quirky, uncertain personality.
Gov. Kasich is running a replay in New Hampshire of his successful campaigns in Ohio in 2010, when he barely won, and in 2014, when his opposition collapsed. In the small state of New Hampshire, where his confident quackery says he’ll be “the story” coming out after voting stops on Feb. 9, the story so far for the chronically crusty governor is that he’s bunched up with the other so-called “establishment lane” candidates, who are or have been governors and deliver the same political punch the perpetually petulant exaggerator claims are his key selling points.
““I’m not doing this so that I can be a big shot,” Mr. Kasich said at one of his recent town hall meetings, as reported by the Union Leader newspaper, which has already endorsed Gov. Chris Christie. “I got back in because I think I can help people,” Gov. Kasich said, again saying he’d be the “CEO of the country” if elected. Kasich’s PR team says he “never gives up,” and that’s true when it comes to advocating for cutting taxes, rebuilding the military, defeating ISIS, stabilizing the nation and giving people certainty. The talking point of “certainty” for business was writ large by former House Speaker John Boehner, a golfing buddy of Mr. Kasich’s.
The notion of “certainty” is a hollow rhetoric since nothing in life except for death is certain. Taxes, as we all know, can be avoided or reduced, and Gov. Kasich has done that time and time again, making delivering government services that people depend on a very uncertain proposition.
What seems to be certain, with less than a month until Iowa votes followed eight days later by New Hampshire, is that Gov. Kasich may not make it out alive from the Granite State, where his line is he “doesn’t play for second.” That happens to be true, but not in a good way given his rapid descent to fifth place.
Kasich’s CEO Complex
Writing at Salon, Sean Illing says, “There’s a popular trope on the right which argues that businessmen make good presidents. In addition to being untrue, this view perpetuates a host of misconceptions about government.” America isn’t a business because it doesn’t exit to turn a profit. Maximizing profits in the private sector, he says, isn’t comparable to managing a prosperous economy. Girding his point, he notes that two of the twentieth century’s worst presidents, Herbert Hoover and George W. Bush, were former businessmen whose respective legacies are the Great Depression for President Hoover and the Iraq War and Great Recession for President Bush.
As Mr. Illing puts it, “business acumen is a terrible indicator of political ability, and for obvious reasons.” Business and politics are separate spheres, he says, and they require different skill sets. CEOs are despots, and Gov. Kasich and Mr. Trump are prime examples of that mindset. They don’t persuade so much as dictate and they’re more inclined to fire those with whom they disagree, Illing correctly notes.
“Presidents live in a non-zero-sum context, where cooperation is crucial and consensus is critical…Good presidents also tend to care about different things than successful CEOs,” he writes. What matters most in private industry is profit, which attracts characters like Gov. Kasich and Donald Trump who think government is more often wrong than right. “There are no rewards for compassion and empathy in the corporate world. But compassion and empathy are precisely what we need in a president,” he says.
Back in 2012, when the richest man ever to run for president, Mitt Romney, lost to Barack Obama, the Republican meme that political leaders need CEO experience was summed up by Mr. Romney this way: “I’d like to have a provision in the Constitution that in addition to the age of the president and the citizenship of the president and the birth place of the president being set by the Constitution, I’d like it also to say that the president has to spend at least three years working in business before he could become president of the United States.”
So when Ohio’s governor lauds his status as a CEO public leader who wants to be CEO for the nation, remember that he’s made his livelihoods off of government for most of his adult life.