The Cable

Kasich, the Last National Security Veteran in the GOP Race, Drops Out

The Republican with the most experience on national security is dropping out of the 2016 race, leaving a businessman with none to the GOP nomination.


Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the most experienced Republican on national security remaining in the 2016 election, suspended his campaign Wednesday — leaving one of the least experienced presidential candidates to the GOP presidential nomination.

As his party’s de facto nominee, Donald Trump has continued to build steam with nativist rhetoric against minority groups and hawkish bluster on foreign policy. Meanwhile, Kasich’s long resume on defense issues has gotten little attention, and his George W. Bush-esque “compassionate conservatism” has failed to gain traction. The popular governor exits the race having won only one contest: his home state of Ohio.

Nobody has ever done more with less in the history of politics,” Kasich said Wednesday evening in Columbus, Ohio, describing his campaign as maintaining “honesty and integrity” even when “it wasn’t sexy; it wasn’t a great soundbite.” 

And as I suspend my campaign today,” he continued, “I have renewed faith, deeper faith, that the Lord will show me the way forward.”

As recently as Tuesday night, when Sen. Ted Cruz dropped out after Trump won the Indiana primary, Kasich used the opportunity for a fundraising push and vowed to fight on. “Sen. Ted Cruz just dropped out of the presidential race, and it’s up to us to stop Trump and unify our party in time to defeat Hillary Clinton,” his campaign wrote. But hours later, Kasich canceled Wednesday’s campaign events and scheduled the announcement.

Kasich served for roughly two decades in Congress a decade ago — from 1983 to 2001 — before running for the Republican nomination in 2000 and eventually bowing out to Bush, who would become president for two terms and lead the United States into the ongoing “war on terror.” On the House Armed Services Committee, Kasich took on the Pentagon to go after wasteful defense spending. And as chair of the powerful House Budget Committee during the Clinton administration, he not only helped to shut down the government, but also turned a deficit of more than $100 billion into an even larger surplus.

Over his nearly 10-month campaign, Kasich took a more traditional Republican stance on foreign policy. He called for the deployment of U.S. troops to join coalition ground forces against the Islamic State, and said “bombings are not enough” as he backed buffer areas and no-fly zones in Syria. In broader contrasts to Trump, he also supported the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in America, and more international cooperation on intelligence.

Trump’s campaign has been motivated in part by promising, in some cases, the exact opposite. He has railed against international trade agreements and hyped up threats he claims are posed by undocumented immigrants — threatening to deport the estimated 11 million currently in the United States. He also has pledged to pull the U.S. military out of allied countries and multilateral security alliances.

Kasich, like other 2016 dropouts before him, has criticized Trump’s foreign policy views as dangerous and uninformed, especially the real estate mogul’s vows of sparking a trade war with China and inflaming relations with much-needed Arab allies with anti-Muslim rhetoric. In one area of common ground, however, Kasich supported a “pause” to resettling Syrian refugees in the United States.

“There is no way that we can put any of our people at risk by bringing people in at this point,” Kasich said in November, after Islamic State-linked militants killed 130 people in Paris.

Still, Kasich has been the only GOP candidate to consistently beat Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in projected general election matchups, with a Real Clear Politics polling average on Wednesday still showing he leads the former secretary of state by more than 7 points.

As Kasich himself pointed out in March, a poll of international relations scholars, conducted in collaboration with Foreign Policy, showed that a majority of the experts favored the Ohio governor to be commander in chief. “I’m going to remind everybody that 55 percent of the foreign policy experts in this country said I was the best to be commander in chief,” he said during the GOP presidential debate in Miami.

Kasich’s exit also represents the fading of the last glimmer of hope for the “Never Trump” contingent of GOP leaders, who now are left with the choice of falling in line behind their party’s inevitable nominee — potentially sitting out at least the next four years of government — or potentially even supporting Clinton.

Among them is former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, an informal Kasich advisor who served during the Bush administration and has called Trump’s foreign policy prescriptions “preposterous.” Asked Wednesday — before Kasich backed out of the race — what he would do if the GOP nomination goes to Trump, Chertoff was circumspect. “We’ll have to see what happens,” he told Foreign Policy.  

This story has been updated. 

Photo credit: NurPhoto/Contributor

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