A Toast to John Kasich, the GOP Debate's Token "Moderate"

A Toast to John Kasich, the GOP Debate's Token "Moderate"

Tonight, 17 Republican presidential candidates will take the stage in Cleveland in an attempt to differentiate themselves from the competition, or, if all else fails, offer entertainment during a highly anticipated primetime event. Public health officials are even warning viewers of the danger of playing drinking games while watching such predictably unpredictable candidates as front-runner (!) Donald Trump.

The decision to host the GOP debates and convention in the blue, working-class, and majority–African American city may be jarring to some liberals, though the swing-state location makes perfect sense. So goes Ohio, so goes the nation, as the saying goes. But as noted in a well-timed report released Wednesday by the Center for American Progress, so goes the state’s middle class.

According to the CAP report, titled “Ohio’s Struggling Middle Class,” the state’s median household income in 2013 is lower than it was in 1984, and below the national average. At the same time, income inequality has widened between the top 20 percent of earners and the bottom 20 percent.

I doubt bringing up the report will be one of the “doozies” moderator Chris Wallace has planned for tonight, though it would be a particularly good question for Ohio Governor John Kasich, who was recently excused from the 5 p.m. debate and offered a place at the big-kids’ 9 p.m. table with the other nine highest-polling candidates (replacing Rick Perry).

While Kasich has a sort-of home-field advantage at this debate, he’ll have his work cut out for him in increasing his name recognition and convincing primary voters that he’s not as moderate as everyone says. He supports Common Core, oversaw the state’s acceptance of Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, and once said, quite radically, that he believed that helping the poor was a Christian virtue.

Of course, most of those stories about his moderate policies generously leave out Kasich’s devastating support for anti-abortion legislation, from 20-week abortion bans to restrictions on providers. And as the CAP report lays out, the governor’s recent budget slashes, including cuts to education, earn his moderate label the modifier of “relatively.” The Ohio tax system under Kasich has seen a decrease in income tax and increase in sales tax, which effectively means that low-income residents pay a higher share of their income in taxes than the wealthy. And in 2011, Kasich championed a restrictive law that curtailed public-sector workers’ collective-bargaining rights. Later that year, Ohioans overwhelmingly voted to repeal the law, but the decline in union membership in Ohio mirrors the decline in middle-class household income, as it does in the rest of the country.

But with nine other candidates, and one of them being the scene-stealing Donald Trump, it’s unlikely Kasich will have much time to justify those policy decisions at length. Still, get out the whiskey and pour yourself a shot every time he proudly says the word “budget,” “abortion,” or “Ohio.” Just be careful.