Gov. John Kasich of Ohio wants to bridge the divides in America.
And that’s exactly what Kasich, a Republican presidential contender in the 2016 election, spoke with Business Insider about this week while on tour promoting his new book, “Two Paths: America Divided or United.”
At times fiercely critical of President Donald Trump, both before and after the campaign, Kasich has positioned himself within the Republican Party as an outspoken voice on healthcare, the opioid crisis, immigration, and trade. And while he’s not revealing his plans, there is certainly plenty of speculation about whether he will make another run at the presidency in 2020.
With his term up in 2018, Kasich is gearing up for life after his governorship. A former nine-term congressman, Fox News host, and Lehman Bros. banker, Kasich said he could foresee a future in politics, media, or business — or something still to be determined.
As a voice of moderation in the 2016 campaign, he was the last competitor to drop out of the race before Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee.
His book is the first signal about what could be next for the Ohio Republican.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Allan Smith: Tell me first, what was the inspiration behind writing this book?
John Kasich: Well, the things I learned on the campaign shouldn’t just be dismissed, OK? I thought what I saw was sort of a — it was really something that got me so motivated to think about how did that happen and where are we going. And then I started to reflect on all of the things I’ve seen throughout my career, no matter what it is.
Whether it was in the media, business, politics — and I think the country is adrift, and I think there are ways out of it, so I felt compelled to do that and write the book. The people that I worked with, you know, this is my fourth book, they were very encouraging for me to do it. And then it just flowed. And I got a whole lot out about my observations and how it affects you and me.
So I want people to read this book not just because I have some ego trip and I want people to buy this book, but because I want you to read this book because I think you will be surprised. It covers so many different aspects of what’s happening in America and what they can do to be a part of what to do to fix this country. So I’m very excited about this book. I’m maybe more excited about this than any book I’ve done.
Smith: Through your campaign, what is the one big thing you learned about the country in 2016 that you didn’t necessarily know about it beforehand?
Kasich: Well, about the country, I think I came to learn that people are not that much into tax cuts or regulations. What they want is they want to feel that people care about them and they’re going to have a chance to get up on their feet. And that whatever situation they find themselves in, they want to know they’re not alone. I think that’s a big part of it. That’s why I think the United [Airlines] problems became viral, because it was an example of where people were treated, where this guy was treated as a widget and not as a human being. And I think people want to know that they’re not alone.
You know, I went into a store to get my smartphone replaced — I don’t have it with me; it’s a flip phone — and the lady — I had to wait for a while — the lady handed me a new phone. I dropped mine in the swimming pool. And I said, “How much does it cost me?” And she said, “We made you wait here, just take this phone. We’re not going to charge you.” I couldn’t believe them.
She said, “Well that’s nothing, because I had a lady come in with a smartphone and we fixed it, and it was our fault, and I gave it back to her, and she said, ‘What do I owe you?’ And I said, ‘You don’t owe me anything.’ And the lady almost started to cry. She said, ‘Nobody treats anybody like that anymore.'” Kindness seems to have gone out the window. And so she was so shocked. So what people want to know is that somebody else cares about them. I really believe that.
Smith: What do you believe has caused the sort of stark divisions that we’re seeing in the country play out? And again, that’s not a new thing. It’s something that’s been developing over a number of years.
Kasich: There are some people who say that your life is bad because other people took advantage of you. My view is no, no, no, you’re having tough times in your life — let’s work together to get you out. And the other problem is people have now been absorbing only that they agree with. You know, part of it is if you’re liberal, you consume liberal information. If you’re a conservative, you consume conservative information. And there’s a certain stridency in both that you know everything, and if somebody doesn’t agree with you, you think they don’t know what they’re talking about, and you become intolerant.
So that’s part of it. On Facebook, if someone posts something you don’t like, you unfriend them, right? We need to stop this. We need to have people listen to one another. And there’s a way to drive that. Look, I’m telling you some stuff I haven’t told anybody else. I got a letter from a young man — well, he’s not a young man now, but I think of him as a young man. He was a kid when I was a kid. He was younger than us, became a great athlete, played football at Penn State. He wrote me a letter the other day about doing something in my old hometown of McKees Rocks. And I really haven’t been very interested — I have enough to do in my state, in my community — but I read his letter, and it was compelling.
What they were doing, they researched it, and they found that if you can create and athletic field and it will also encourage other activities, that it can help rebuild a community. So he and a whole lot of people in this town of McKees Rocks are coming together to do something bigger than themselves for somebody else. That’s how we get unity again in the country. So I had my wife read the letter. She said, “We have to send them money, John.” So I did. I called them, and I really encouraged them, because it’s those kinds of things that can help get people to understand one another again.
Smith: Do you believe that part of the polarization in this country, whether it’s from people consuming liberal or conservative information, do you believe that it’s also an aspect of having just two parties, and that’s just a naturally polarizing system?
Kasich: I think we tend to focus — look, this book is an awful lot about the campaign and politics, but it’s an awful lot about other things. We tend to focus in America on our political system. But what about the rest of our system? What about the business community? EpiPen, Wells Fargo, United? What about the sports community and some of these people who play on Sundays who have no business even being on the field? What about the media that became so focused on ratings that content didn’t matter? What about the religious types who engaged themselves in politics instead of church affairs?
In other words, it’s not just — there’s another thing I believe is going on. And that is self-absorption. I think that as societies mature — I might sound like a preacher here — as societies mature, there is a sense of putting man on the throne and taking God off. God is a compass. God is not about who you’re sleeping with or, I mean, I don’t care about that. It’s about loving your neighbor. It’s about living a life that’s bigger than yourself. As time goes on, societies have a tendency to put themselves on the throne, and that leads to self-absorption and that leads to “life is all about me.” And there’s not a compass that sends you in a direction where life can’t be just about you.
And I think this growing total … growing and strengthening secularization, I think, is having a significant impact. Now, you don’t have to be a religious person. You can be a humanist and care about other people. But when we only become self-absorbed, then we become divided. “I’m not really interested in what you think, and, by the way, when you send me something on Facebook that disagrees with me, I’m just dropping you off of it.” It’s all these kinds of things. Or “I’m in a company, and my company doesn’t have all the revenue — we’ll just fire all of those people” instead of saying, “Look, we’ve got to keep our people together and keep our people working.”
When it becomes all about money and all about me, which we’re all hypocrites — I mean, I could say anything I want to say here, but I’m chief hypocrite. I mean, I say these things, but I can’t do them all. But at least I should be aware of them. And that’s what I think has divided us is this self-absorption; we don’t have the compass. I think we need an awakening in America.
Does that make sense?
Smith: It does. What you just described, isn’t that kind of what happened in ancient societies that became the world’s superpower and eventually demised?
Kasich: They lost their values. That’s what I’m concerned about. Why are we not caring about other people? Why are there weddings today where family members are fighting each other over politics? Trump or no Trump, why are we getting so worked up about that? How did this happen? I know how it happened, because just one thing led to another and we’ve gone down this road. And driven by stridency, to some degree, and those that provide content.
Smith: You actually used to be someone who worked in the media — you had a program on Fox News for years. What do you make of the role that media organizations, you know, we are the media, have played in this?
Kasich: Well, I called a network executive, who will never be named, and I said: “I know you made $1 billion in this campaign, and they’re going to now push you to make another billion. The question is, when you make the second billion, are you going to be able to look yourself in the mirror? What about your values? What is your family going to think about you? How are you going to think about yourself?”
So I think that media is critical in our country, absolutely vital. But I don’t think we can have a media that is — you’ve got to make money. Business Insider has to make money. But not at all costs. So I think that the media has to become — they just have to do what they do best. Report the news, hold people accountable and all that, and not get into all the hype. You know, and all the clicks for cash and everything else, you’ve got to reign that in.
Smith: How do you think during the past campaign —
Kasich: — and that’s up to you, and you (pointing to Business Insider Executive Editor Brett LoGiurato).
Smith: How do you think during the past campaign —
Kasich: — you mean how did the media do?
Kasich: I think they did terrible. I think they regret it today. I think they look back and say, “You know, we could’ve done better.”
Smith: What do you think specifically was terrible?
Kasich: Well, how do you put an empty podium up for 20 minutes, waiting for someone to speak. You know, it’s all about money, ratings. I was in the media. I know how it works. But there’s just some things that are more important than money. I mean, one philosopher said, “Money can’t buy you love.”
Smith: True. Do you believe that we are now in a post-truth environment?
Kasich: You know, I was a subject of a fake news article out of Europe. And it was really amazing.
Smith: What was it?
Kasich: I don’t want to repeat it. But it was a real hit on me. All made up. It looked really official. And the post-truth environment or fake news or any of this other stuff, sometimes it’s hard to discern the truth, right? Unless you are on it. I mean, we all have to be, as consumers of information and news, we have to be a little more circumspect. And let’s not take everything in that gets fed to us. We need to become more — it’s kind of like when you go shopping, we need to be a little bit more discriminating. You know, if I say something.
Look at the issue on climate change, OK? Are we in a post-truth environment? Some people say there’s no issue; other people say the world is coming to an end. I mean, yeah, I think that it’s easy for people to make things up to convince people of their point of view, and I think it’s dangerous. Fake news is dangerous. Post-truth, you know, what is the truth? It’s important we know the truth.
Smith: Well, I mean, right now we’ve got the president who’s used the term fake news to describe —
Kasich: — anything that is criticism.
Kasich: And I think that’s bad.
Smith: So what do you consider to be the definition of fake news?
Kasich: Made-up stuff. Things that are not founded in reality. Something that is of somebody’s imagination.
Smith: And as being somebody who was on Fox News for a while, specifically —
Kasich: — let me tell you how I did my job, OK?
Kasich: I mean, the first show I had was called “Heroes.” And the second show I had was “From the Heartland.” And I did “O’Reilly” for almost 10 years. If there was a segment I didn’t like, I just would tell them I’m not doing it. “Sorry, I’m not doing it.” Now, you can’t always have it your way. Sometimes they’d say, “We really think this is important.” And you don’t want to be, you know, a self-righteous guy, but there were a number of times where I’d say, “Nope, I’m not doing it.”
Same is true when I was at Lehman Bros. Some of the bankers finally figured out “We’re not going to take him to see some certain clients because he just is not going to go along.” Now, I’m not putting myself on this pedestal. I don’t want to be knocked off my self-righteous petard here, you know. But you kind of struggle to get it right. And sometimes you get it wrong. But I was interested in trying to present things in a very interesting way because I’m not sure that — I think that boring content when presented right can be quite interesting. How do you like that?
Smith: I would agree with that.
Kasich: That’s a great quote.
Smith: Hang that up on the wall at Business Insider. That’s the model.
Kasich: I tell you, I did a show one time. They said it was going to be a failure. And I had Elie Wiesel, an imam, a rabbi, and a priest. And the show did exceedingly well. They didn’t want me to do the show. And I said, “Well, I think this will be great.” And it did well. So you know, I think, guys, two young guys here (pointing to Smith and LoGiurato) you, much younger than he is (pointing at LoGiurato, who is actually three years older than Smith), they’re going to remember you for what you did, not for your title and your money.
No one cares about that when they put us in the box, right? I’ve never been to a funeral where they said, “Well, this guy was really rich.” You know? It’s never about that. It’s like, “Well, with his wealth, he gave to charity.” I’d like at least 70% of what they say about me when I die to actually be true. That’s my goal.
Smith: That’s a good threshold.
Kasich: They can go 30% made-up. Fake news. Give me at least 70%.
Smith: So I think an age-old idea was that —
Kasich: — do you understand what I was saying though, about this field in McKees Rocks?
Kasich: You’ve got all these different people working on a single project. You know what happens? You get done with your meeting, you go out and have a couple beers. And then you’re talking about the [Pittsburgh] Penguins, and the Steelers, and the Pirates, and then all of a sudden, nobody cares about all this political bulls—, OK? All of a sudden it’s like, “Hey man, how’re you doing?” as opposed to “Who’re you for?”
You know what I mean? One of my boyhood friends — I can tell you who it is, it’s Judge [David] Cercone. He cannot talk to his father, because his father is 90 years old, has these political opinions. I don’t even know how it happened. And I said, “Dave, we’ve got to get your father off of that stuff.” I mean, I was shocked to hear it. But he absorbs one kind of news and yells at Dave about it. His father! Isn’t that crazy.
Smith: I think a lot of people can relate to that.
Kasich: I mean, that’s not where we want to live, fighting with somebody over Donald Trump. I mean, are you kidding me? Or Nancy Pelosi? I mean, what’re we thinking here?
I’m sorry, you were saying something about campaigns.
Smith: So it was an age-old truth that during a general election campaign, people would run to the center to get those moderate, middle-of-the-road voters that could swing either way, that would swing an election. And people would campaign to get that little 10% sliver. And now it seems like — and not only in this past presidential election — but it seems like people, candidates, no longer have to do that. And I’m curious what you think.
Kasich: Well, let’s forget about the presidential election for a second and talk about Congress. All this gerrymandering has just carved people up into safe districts, but they’re not safe, because they have to fear primaries. If you’re a Democrat, it’s from the left. If you’re a Republican, it’s from the right. So it further polarizes people. And then when you have the public, which is increasingly sort of knowledgeable about what’s happening, compromise is like evil. So the system is dysfunctional. Gerrymandering is horrific.
The role of money in politics is terrible, particularly when you’re running for president. You get a handful of billionaires who can basically buy the White House. It’s disgraceful. So the changes need to come. There’s a Supreme Court case on redistricting. I hope that the court rules and that the people who were there win and they have to draw more reasonable lines. We’re trying to do something about it in Ohio. On the presidential side, I think because of the changing economy, economics of America, people are very unsettled. And so there is a different way in which you talk to people today because of the fear that they have because of the economic change.
Smith: So you were talking about gerrymandering. Do you believe there is this sense that people are migrating to places in the country where the ideologies are in cohesion.
Kasich: You mean like moving there?
Smith: Yeah, yeah. There’s a great migration of people who have more liberal beliefs to move to coastal cities.
Smith: Yeah, and it could have more of an effect than gerrymandering