John Kasich was one of Newt Gingrich’s young turks in the ’90s, when he earned some bipartisan respect for originality, consistency and reasonableness. Now he’s the Republican governor of Ohio, and he just did an end run on his Republican-controlled legislature in order to extend Medicaid to 275,000 low-income Ohioans. He has a message for his national party:
I’m concerned about the fact there seems to be a war on the poor, that if you’re poor, somehow you’re shiftless and lazy. You know what? The very people who complain ought to ask their grandparents if they worked at the W.P.A.
Republicans in Washington have fired another salvo at the poor, with $5 billion in food stamp cuts kicking in Friday. I don’t think that will do much for either the deficit or the economy. Whatever problems the country has, it isn’t because life is too easy for America’s poor, and anyone who thinks so is out of touch with the millions of Americans who are hurting. Being out of touch with the poor is no problem if you’re rich; it can be a problem if you are a politician, especially in a swing state like Ohio, where one in six people earns below the poverty line. This stuff also comes across as mean-spirited to lots of conservative Republican evangelicals, like Kasich, who are called to help the poor, not make them more miserable.
Thus opens another rift in the Republican Party: Working class conservatives and evangelicals sympathetic to the poor vs. ideologues willing to see millions of working poor denied access to health care or food stamps just to spite Barack Obama.
Another fissure opened up this week, as it was reported that a coalition of business leaders, evangelicals and prominent conservatives are now pressuring House Republican leaders to advance immigration reform.
Then there’s the Main St. vs. Wall St. fissure; the libertarian isolationists vs. the national security hawks; the tactical pragmatists vs. the guys who brought us the government shutdown/debt ceiling debacle. Even within the tea party wing, differences between the libertarians and the social conservatives lie just beneath the surface.
I don’t think that’s the kind of ideological diversity that draws people to the Republican brand; it mostly means there are characters on the GOP stage that can drive lots of voters away. I think it will take a long time for the GOP to work through its divisions, and I’m starting to think the 2016 Republican presidential free-for-all may make the 2012 circus look tame.