Post-Debate Ethics, Part 2 (of 4): John Kasich’s Opportunity

It is almost too late, but not quite, for Donald Trump to be derailed by a Joseph Welch-Joe McCarthy moment. I called for a qualified and competent GOP candidate to do this seven months ago, but none had the wit or courage to deliver. Since then, Trump has provided one opening after another that could have been exploited to tear away the veil of ignorance from even the eyes of the most deluded Trump supporter. One such opening was September 16, when Trump probably doomed some innocent children by promoting anti-vaxxer myths in a nationally televised debate. A medical doctor, inexplicably running for President, was standing right next to him. Did Ben Carson say, “You know, Donald, your ignorance is stunning. Vaccinations don’t cause autism, and they save lives, but as with every other topic we have talked about, you are shooting from the hip, faking expertise you don’t have, and dangerously misleading millions of trusting Americans by pretending to have expertise you don’t have. You should be ashamed of yourself. Why aren’t you?”? No, Carson, typically, mumbled something accommodating and let Trump get away with more misinformation.

Dr. Carson’s gone now, thankfully, as are many other candidates who might have burnished their own chances and clotheslined Trump with a well-planned “Have you no sense of decency?” sequel. Only one candidate remains who has any chance of pulling off the instant character assassination that Joseph Welch executed so deftly on June 9, 1954. In my post before that September 16 debate, I predicted that one of the non-Trumps would use a variation of Welch’s line, and observed that if I was wrong,  none of them “are  smart enough to be President.”

As Jeff Goldblum muses in “Jurassic Park,” Boy do I hate being right all the time.” Or being right about why I was wrong.

I don’t have much hope for John Kasich, the one remaining alternative to Trump with a chance to play Welch effectively. Although he should be the perfect candidate for Republicans—a bona fide conservative, a successful governor in a critical state the Republicans must win, easily the most experienced and qualified of the contenders—Kasich has so far shown himself to be a weak presence and a conflict averse campaigner. He is also one who says “Guess what?” every other time he opens his mouth, threatening to join other failed GOP candidates who never bothered to eliminate bad speaking habits that set listeners’ teeth on edge: John McCain’s condescending, “My friends,” and worst of all, Bob Dole’s habit of referring to himself in the third person, like “Jimmy” on “Seinfeld.” The reason this is a significant problem is that it shows Kasich is lazy, lacks self-awareness and that he’s getting bad advice. He also jerks his head, hands and body around when he’s speaking; these are amateurish flaws, because they can be fixed in about a day.

Still, polls show Kasich beating Hillary Clinton soundly, and he is still in the race. He could still save his own prospects for the nomination and the nation as well by Welching The Donald, but time is running out.

If I thought he was sufficiently canny, I might believe that he’s been carefully preparing to hit Trump with a Welch Bomb all along. Trump wouldn’t see it coming; he’s ignoring Kasich at this point. The Ohio governor has made such a fetish about being above the fray that he’s been almost Martin O’Malley-invisible in recent debates, but he still keeps getting plaudits as “the only adult in the room.” What his admirers and Kasich himself have to understand is that when there is only one adult in the room and the children are flagrantly misbehaving, that adult has an obligation to assert his superior experience, values and authority, and impose some discipline. If the adult does not meet this responsibility, he’s abdicating his role as an adult for the role of an impotent, enabling bystander.

Kasich had the perfect set up for a crushing attack on Trump when the boor referenced his penis on national television. Kasich should have had a flexible speech memorized, rehearsed and ready, and it should have gone something like this…

“I have to step in here. Mr. Trump, you are running for the Presidency of the United States of America, and yet here you are, on national TV, once again lowering the level of civility and dignity to gutter levels. Boasting about your penis? Here? And this isn’t even the first example of your utter disrespect for the party, the process, and most of all, the public. You degrade all of us on this stage and the nation itself by conducting yourself in such an ugly and indecent manner. Have you no decency? At this point, I think we have to conclude the answer is no, and you can’t make American great again by acting like a jerk. Frankly, I’m embarrassed to be on the same stage with you. You’re a disgrace. What’s the matter with you?”

I’d love to see how Donald would react to that. Done right—and I doubt very much that Kasich has the skills to do it right—it could immediately elevate Kasich’s candidacy and create a crisis for Trump.

Kasich will have one more opportunity to be the new Joseph Welch, I think. Based on what I’ve seen from him so far, I doubt that he has what it takes to seize it….or to get elected President.

33 thoughts on “Post-Debate Ethics, Part 2 (of 4): John Kasich’s Opportunity

  1. Which is really, really sad; an actual alternative to Trump, establishment republicans, and Hillary or Sanders, maybe the only viable one at this point.

  2. He missed another “Welch bomb” opportunity, seems to me, by falling in line with the other diehard GOP members when they finished their denunciations of the The Donald with the pledge to support the Republican candidate, even if it were Il Duce I mean Il Donald.

    Yes, I know the party politics problem with that, but don’t you think he could have said something like:

    “You know, all my instincts cry out against this, but there are times when you just have to put nation ahead of party, and I’ve got to tell you, what I’ve heard tonight makes me think this is one of those times. I just can’t go along with my esteemed colleagues Rubio and Cruz – I have to tell you I can’t in good conscience claim right now that I’d support him. In fact, right now, after what we’ve been hearing – I DON’T think I can support him. Hopefully that’ll change, but I’ve gotta say…” etc.

    • Yes, that was another opportunity: good catch. I think all of them will in fact be obligated to refuse to support Trump if he is nominated, pledge or not. This is the bind that the GOP should have seen coming and thrown Trump out of the race after the very first debate. They really thought he would boost ratings and didn’t have a prayer of prevailing. That was a reasonable assumption, but they are paying the price for abandoning principle. My message would have been: you’re a Democrat, go run with them.

  3. I have a friend whose wife, he says, has fallen literally into a clinical depression over this year’s elections and has been advised by her physician to see a psychiatrist. She is a grandmother of three and a lifetime worker for . . . the Democrats.

    I know it doesn’t help, but this is a situation of bi-partisan rot, and I’m afraid the result may be even more Americans turning their backs on the political process.

  4. Kasich’s opportunity to stop Donald Trump with a well-placed attack, and the Republican Party’s opportunity to stop him from almost certainly being their nominee and the possibly fatal schism that will come with that, I believe are all but lost at this point.

    I believe that the Republican Party leaders believed that Donald Trump is a buffoon who would not last as soon as the voters started actually casting votes. However, this was a serious miscalculation. The leaders of the Republican Party have taken the blue collar and ideological conservatives votes for granted, and concentrated on the interests of the Chamber of Commerce or business interests among their supporters.

    Unfortunately, the blue collar and ideological conservatives outnumber the business class and have been placed in the position of being ignored. The business class Republican supporters are the same supporters who support a path to citizenship for those in this country illegally because they want cheap labor, and who could not cave fast enough on religious freedom because if someone whispers the word boycott they wet their pants in fear. Those who want to see this country’s immigration laws actually enforced and the First Amendment not become hollow do not expect to receive either support or a hearing from the current administration, however, they do expect not to be ignored by the party that is supposed to be representing their interests.

    There is a certain amount of justifiable frustration that comes from working hard and playing by the rules and at the same time being called a racist, a bigot, 410 different kinds of ignorant hater because you will not get on board with the administration. That frustration and anger become that much greater when you vote for the opposition to the current administration in the hopes that they will address your concerns, but no sooner do they get sworn into power, then they begin ignoring you as much as the administration did.

    There comes a point for all people when they say that if no one else is going to address their concerns, they are going to turn to someone who will. Like it or not, the only person in this race who is even speaking to the concerns of the people who think as I have just outlined, is Donald Trump. The Republican Party badly stumbled by bringing out Mitt Romney and John McCain, both of whom are branded as losers, to scold their own supporters for turning to the one person so far who seems to be addressing their concerns. It is far too easy for Trump and his supporters now to say that the Republican Party elite are all out of ideas and the best they can offer are retreads that did not work the first time out.

    It is this type of thinking that brought Mussolini to power in Italy promising to make the trains run on time and Chavez to power in Venezuela promising to give the poor their share of the nation’s wealth at the expense of the rich. The fates of both these men are history, however, it should not be lost on anyone who actually reads the history that there was a time when both of these demagogues appeared unstoppable. Chavez might still be in power in Venezuela and leading a pink tide in South America had he not gotten cancer and died. Mussolini might have become another Francisco Franco and let Italy for life had historical events not gotten away from him. Just for the record, Francisco Franco led Spain for over 40 years having promised to bring order back, and his heirs might still be in power in Spain had not his chosen successor been assassinated shortly before his own death in 1975.

    The main point is that all of these men came to power when the existing political leadership was seen as unresponsive to the needs of a large portion of the populace. In Franco’s case it is also because Spain had dissolved into civil war, but that civil war came about when the political leadership failed and the populace split into nationalists and communist.

    Mussolini and Chavez both reached the point where no one could have stopped them with mere rhetoric even if they had the necessary rhetorical tools. I am not certain Donald Trump has reached that point of being unstoppable, but I believe no one else in the race has the necessary rhetorical tools to stop him in that fashion now. I am not sure anyone ever in the race ever did.

    I believe the Republican Party stumbled by bringing out Mitt Romney and John McCain to hold their own supporters for looking towards the one person in this race who seems to be addressing their concerns. It is now very easy for Donald Trump to say that the Republican Party Elite has nothing to offer but retreads who did not work the first time around. The ability to stop him if it still exists rests with the three remaining candidates for those who control the Republican convention. Neither of those appears to be a good option, as the other three candidates are clearly not up to the task, and for those who control the convention to somehow maneuver a victory away from the man who is increasingly the people’s choice would be almost certainly fatal to the party as an institution.

    I also do not believe in the current climate of fear that Donald Trump would be easily defeated by Hillary Clinton. He has not thought fair and he has roundly beaten several other candidates who had less baggage and greater rhetorical gifts then Hillary. There is no reason to believe that he would suddenly start fighting fair once it came down to a race against her, and there are multiple areas to attack her on and damage her on.

    A friend of mine told me in a post that it is getting to be time to get on the Trump train before you get run over. Much as I do not find that palatable, I am beginning to think that is inevitable. The alternative is turning Hillary into a false goddess of feminism and I will not do that. The voters and the Republican Party have now made their bed and they are going to have to lie in it for the next four years.

      • That’s right, let’s take this lying down.

        Trump is already losing credibility. The US is about to show the world why it is better than Germany, Italy, and many other places.

        The argument that that GOP was wrong to have Romney tell the awful truth is bizarre. Who, then? That’s the argument that parents should be cool and “pals” because actually telling kids that they are full of baloney further estranges them.

        • Someone who didn’t lose an election and isn’t perceived, rightly or wrongly, as an out-of-touch plutocrat.

          • What does losing an election have to do with anything—especially THAT election? The conservatives making that complaint are also the reason Romney lost. They wanted a religion trumps law loser like Santorum. Good plan!

            Charles Blow just wrote an anti-Trump column. The National Review? Comedy Central? Me? You cannot name a more credible or articulate messenger than Romney.

            Talk about letting the perfect be the enemy of the good…

            • I don’t think it’s necessarily about the perfect becoming the enemy of the good, although there is certainly a question of whether hardline conservatives who saw Romney as to centrist and stayed home cost the Republicans the 2012 election. I don’t think that’s the case. I think that Romney was fighting an uphill battle and tactically saw his greatest asset, his resume, turned into his indictment. But I’m not here to rehash the 2012 election. That’s over and lost as the president still occasionally reminds us. My point is that someone who lost and election is considered damaged goods or incompetent by a lot of people, &, as such, is probably the least qualified to scold those who are opposed to taking a different path than the one that failed them 4 years ago.

              • I agree with your assessment of the GOP using McCain and Romney as the tools to discredit Trump. However, I think that both of their critiques would have had much more credibility had they not both been far more vigorous in their attacks on fellow Republicans than on Obama. McCain always approached Obama with kid gloves, but will viciously attack anyone he perceives as being to the “right” of him. Romney was very effective in tearing down his primary opponents, but other than the first debate with Obama, seemed to refuse to go for it.

        • P.S. I don’t see how electing a lying lawbreaker strictly on the basis of what is or isn’t between her legs makes us much better than Germany after the Reichstag fire or Italy after the Blackshirts. I think it just puts us at a different place along the same path, staving off a real collapse a few more years.

    • There is a very reptilian part of my brain that understands the idea of voting for Trump, comprised of the anger towards the arrogant bastards in the RINO party, and the fear and revulsion of the idea of Clinton or Sanders in the WH. I’m sure that these feeling are strong, even in many people who are almost certain that a Trump presidency would be a disaster.

    • “A friend of mine told me in a post that it is getting to be time to get on the Trump train before you get run over.”

      He would be a Nazi member in 1930s Germany.

      You should stay away from him.

      • Or he might say he was one of those students 37 years ago telling the politicians who couldn’t seem to straighten out the questions of Vietnam and the civil rights movement to get out of the way and not block up the hall “cause the times they are a-changin’.”

    • Steve-O, I think the only difference between you and me is that I don’t give a fart if Hillary is turned into a false goddess of feminism. That goddesshood will last only as long as the doomed Republic that she might have the privilege of further helping along toward its complete ruin. The history books that lionize her will be either burned or degaussed, depending on the medium that attempts to record the lies about the liar.

      Bring ‘er on. I’m ready for the apocalypse. Screw Trump. He’s just a hired hand for her.

    • I’ll never join the Trump train. I do like your comparison of Trump’s promises to Mussolini’s and Hugo Chavez’s. I’m afraid that too many voters will buy into “I’m the guy that will make American great” empty promises. Maybe a brokered convention wouldn’t be such a bad idea!

  5. Everyone should go to the library and check out and read (that is, if the library still has it), Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here.”

  6. Jack, your proposed “flexible speech” for Kasich is beautiful. Have you thought about reaching out to Kasich’s speech writers?

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