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Gov. Kasich On The State Of The Republican Party


I'm Scott Simon. President Abraham Lincoln signed the act to encourage immigration on July 4, 1864. Lincoln had battled opponents of immigration who called themselves the American and Know-Nothing Party because they urged supporters not to answer questions from officials since he'd been an Illinois state senator. That is the political party which in many ways first opened the doors of the U.S. to immigrants now becoming an anti-immigration party. We turn now to John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio, who, of course, ran against Donald Trump in the 2016 primaries and did not endorse him in the general election. The governor joins us from Columbus. Governor, thanks so much for being with us.

JOHN KASICH: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Is the party of Lincoln now the party of Donald Trump?

KASICH: I think that's kind of hard to say. It seems as though the people who identify with a political party really consolidate behind a president. Does that mean that that is now the definition of the party? I don't really think so. You know, obviously, when he has enormous support - you know, when he takes strong positions, they may go along. But if you were to take just this immigration debate - the family separation - as kind of almost dark humor, somebody was saying, well, Republicans support it by 58 percent. And I said, well, I'm surprised it wasn't 85 percent because we've become so tribal in both parties. I mean, who is the definition? I think my definition's been fairly traditional.

SIMON: Do you believe Republicans should share what seems to be the president's anxiety and even hostility about immigration?

KASICH: No, I don't. I mean, look. Immigration to me is something that strengthens a country brings new ideas. It brings energy. Now, we ought to be able to control our borders. We don't want to have open borders where anybody just comes in any more than you want somebody just to come into your home without having to knock. But yet, the idea that somehow people that want to come here are going to damage the country, I completely and totally reject. Now, the problem we're seeing on the border, to me, is a humanitarian crisis. What a leader needs to do is to put all hands on deck. You forget politics. You think about the humanity of it. And then you drive a policy.

SIMON: You've disagreed with President Trump on a slew of issues. Should some big-name Republicans challenge him in the 2020 primaries?

KASICH: It's too early to talk about that. You know, that's - I haven't decided what I'm going to do. All of my options are on the table.

SIMON: I was trying to be subtle when I rose the question.

KASICH: Oh, well, I don't know what I'm going to do. I mean, I have six months left in my term. And Scott, at the beginning of this, you know, you were asking about what is the definition of the Republican Party - or what is their philosophy? To me, it's pretty simple. You know, you want to keep taxes as low as you can. You want regulations - not just repeal everything but have common sense. You want to make sure that when you think about that job creation's our greatest moral imperative - but you also want to think about the fact that success and prosperity and opportunity should be for everyone from the top all the way down to the bottom. Name-calling, divisions, disunity, favoring one group over another - to me, it's just not the way you lead.

SIMON: Now, President Trump would take credit for certainly lowering taxes and also for creating a lot of jobs.

KASICH: Well, look. First of all, politicians don't create jobs. You want to create an environment where people who have the wherewithal to do it do it. Now, is it better that we've lowered the corporate taxes? Is it better that people who have companies in Europe can operate more effectively? Yeah, I think that's good. So yeah, we can give some credit to the president and the Congress. And I'm not here to be a Johnny-one-note - you know, everything they do is wrong. Some things they do is right. But when they're right, I need to praise them. But when I think they're off-base, you know, as a public official, I think that I can have the space to criticize.

SIMON: What would you say to the 58 percent of Republicans who, according to a couple of polls, support the president on immigration?

KASICH: Well, you know, that's always a - if I went to somebody's door who was one of the 58 percent, and I said, do you really want to separate the children from Mom and Dad, I don't think I'd find most people - now, what they will say is, well, they need to abide by the law. OK. But they don't understand sometimes that there are drug lords or gangs that want to kill them, and they're trying to get here hopefully to seek asylum. And when they should - when they understand that there ought to be a process whereby we hear - if the threats against them are real and practical, then they ought to be able to be admitted. I don't think most people understand that.

SIMON: Can you tell us that in a year from now you won't be an independent?

KASICH: Well, I'm a Republican. And I'm still hopeful that I can pull the party. And I believe that my brand of conservatism - of Republicanism works. I mean, I ran for re-election in this state and in a state that has always been very close. And I won 86 out of 88 counties. It's just - we may just be in a temporary situation. And I'm a patient man, and we'll see what happens.

SIMON: Governor John Kasich of Ohio, thanks so much.

KASICH: God bless you and everybody listening. We love what you do. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.