John Kasich was a leading figure in the Tea Party movement a decade ago, but now he is set to toss his support behind Joe Biden in November.
Kasich, a Republican and frequent critic of President Trump, is expected to speak at the Democratic National Convention on Biden’s behalf next month, according to the Associated Press.
He is among a handful of high-profile Republicans likely to become more active in supporting Biden in the fall.
Kasich’s support of Biden marks a sharp turn from 2010 when, as a candidate for governor, Kasich told a conservative crowd, “I think I was in the Tea Party before there was a Tea Party.”
In fact, Kasich’s career in the Republican Party started in 1970 when he was just an eighteen-year-old college freshman at The Ohio State University.
Kasich penned a glowing three-page fan letter to President Richard Nixon, begging to be invited to the White House.
“I am a great admirer of yours,” Kasich wrote, “I think you, as far as I can judge, are not only a great president but an even greater person.” Kasich then offered the ultimate sacrifice a Buckeye student can give, “I would immediately pass up a Rose Bowl trip to see you.”
Nixon received the fan mail and responded by extending an invitation to Kasich to visit him in the White House three weeks later.
An excited college student then called home to tell his parents: “I called my mother and said, ‘I’m going to need an airline ticket,’” Kasich recalled to me during an interview on board his campaign bus in 2010. “You know, the mailman’s wife, and I’m telling her I need an airline ticket to go down and see the president. I can still hear her yelling into the phone, ‘honey, pick up the phone—something’s wrong with Johnny!’”
Twenty days later, Kasich was standing in the Oval Office where he met with Nixon for twenty minutes.
Kasich, already elected to the Ohio State student government, had made up his mind to spend a life in government.
At twenty-six, he became the youngest person elected to the state senate in Ohio.
In 1982, in an overwhelmingly Democratic election year, Kasich won his first congressional bid, the only Republican in the country to defeat a Democratic incumbent that year.
He would hold the seat for nearly two decades.
During his nine terms in the House, Kasich had been a top lieutenant for Speaker Newt Gingrich, and was chairman of the Budget Committee.
Part of his job was helping craft the GOP message following their takeover of the House in 1995.
His brash style landed him on Bob Dole’s short list for vice president in 1996.
Kasich authored a bipartisan balanced budget deal in 1997 which also contained the first major tax cuts in sixteen years.
The bill was signed in the Rose Garden by President Bill Clinton, with Kasich at his side.
Former speaker Newt Gingrich told me in an interview Kasich was “a great chairman of the budget committee,” and “we would not have had balanced budgets without his leadership.”
In 1998, the year after the deal was signed, the country ran a budget surplus.
It continued through both fiscal years 1999 and 2000.
Both parties took credit, but there is no question Kasich was the architect of the deal.
Kasich retired from Congress in 2001 and headed to Wall Street, where he worked at Lehman Brothers.
There in his office at 3 World Financial Center, he worked on investment-banking deals.
In 2010, Kasich returned to Ohio and, with the help of the Tea Party, was elected governor where he served for two terms.
Four years ago he sought the GOP nomination for president, losing to Trump.
After the election, he said that he had written John McCain’s name on his ballot, refusing to support the GOP nominee.
Kasich has been critical of Trump throughout his presidency on issues ranging from immigration to health care to gerrymandering.
Before the 2018 election, Kasich said if the Republican Party continued to be anti-immigration and anti-trade, he wouldn’t be able to support the party in 2020.
Biden’s team would not confirm specific discussions with Kasich, but deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield acknowledged the campaign has begun working with Republicans, just as it has worked with progressives in recent months.
At the least, she said GOP backers could help mute Trump’s efforts to paint Biden as a tool of the left.
“In terms of Republican supporters, I think it speaks to a career of being able to work across the aisle, of being able to actually get things done,” Bedingfield said. “We welcome the support of anybody who’d rather see Joe Biden be president than Donald Trump.”
Two years ago, Kasich joined Biden at the University of Delaware for a discussion on bipartisanship, held at the Biden Institute.
Kasich and Biden, who partnered in June 2011 in a golf match against former President Obama and John Boehner, both have blue collar roots and deep political resumes.