Jason Hart

Conservatives talking up Ohio Governor John Kasich as a potential 2016 GOP standard-bearer ought to stop kidding themselves.

Unless you’ve managed to block out coverage of the 2016 field, you’ve heard the Kasich Admin spin: pragmatic conservative John Kasich saved Ohio from disastrous Democrat Ted Strickland, and has been cuttin’ taxes and creatin’ jobs ever since!

While there is truth to this narrative – Kasich is certainly superior in many respects to Strickland, whose record of failure landed him at the Center for American Progress – the devil’s in the details, and it’s the responsibility of citizens to shake him out.

Is Ohio’s economy recovering? Yes, but not as quickly or consistently as it should be after years of decline that began long before Strickland took office… and our labor force is in the pits.

Is Kasich cutting taxes? Yes, but instead of shrinking the state government Kasich has hiked taxes elsewhere and taken advantage of a cyclical uptick in revenue.

In this case, it’s unnecessary to argue about the quantities of tax cuts or job growth a state should expect under a Republican governor with a Republican legislature; even if you accept Kasich’s talking points asterisk-free, there are glaring reasons to reject the Kasich ’16 buzz.

Since it’s baseball season, let’s go with a three strikes theme.

Strike 1 – Common Core: Ohio signed on to Common Core under Gov. Strickland, but Kasich and his legislative allies have made sure the state doesn’t back out. Asked about Common Core in a recent radio interview, Kasich replied, “that program is written by local school districts.”

Strike 2 –Medicaid expansion: Kasich handled this issue so horribly, the Obamacare expansion alone should disqualify him from presidential consideration.

While insisting the Obamacare Medicaid expansion has nothing to do with Obamacare, Kasich lied about how the new entitlement will be paid for, said it’s what God wants, and circumvented the Ohio General Assembly to ram it through.

Strike 3 – Energy: Kasich has fought for a tax hike on fracking for two years, pitching a plan to soak Big Oil (and Appalachian Ohio landowners) and redistribute the revenue as a statewide tax cut.

Want to argue that Kasich got a piece of that pitch, since he was swinging for income tax reduction? Well, Kasich also threatened to veto a permanent freeze on Strickland-era “green” energy mandates, demanding a 2-year freeze instead.

The electricity mandates were supported by Republicans in 2008, and the approach to repealing them is illustrative of how Ohio’s political process works under Kasich.

1. Ohio Senator Kris Jordan introduces repeal of “green” energy mandates;

2. Ohio Senate leadership torpedoes repeal bill, fiddles with freeze for months and months;

3. Kasich says he won’t sign freeze unless it’s dramatically watered down.

Good policy gutted in three easy steps!

Now, if you’re like me you don’t want to even think about 2016 yet. Unfortunately, the chatter has begun in earnest, and Kasich’s time as a Fox News host means that national commentators whose opinions carry weight are giving Kasich more credit than he deserves.

Kasich has grown government, has lied about it, and has attacked advocates of limited government while doing so. He’s basically a less-orange Charlie Crist who wants to change his party instead of his party affiliation.

Philosophy and politics overlap in ways that can make policy successes – and failures – tough to measure. That makes it all the more important to hold elected officials accountable on issues where it’s obvious what course they should take.

An important part of that is laughing at GOP flacks who treat criticism of big-government Republicans as a shameful lack of devotion on the critic’s part.

Assuming our fiscal canoe hasn’t gone over the waterfall by 2016, why would conservatives rally behind a Republican who has paddled toward the edge and spit in the eye of anyone telling him not to?

Jason Hart

Jason Hart (Twitter: @jasonahart) works for a conservative nonprofit. Jason's writing has appeared at RedState, Washington Examiner, FreedomWorks, Breitbart, and elsewhere.