The knives are starting to come out for one of the GOP's surging candidates
In recent weeks, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) has been enjoying a surge in polls of the Republican presidential primary field.
And as Kasich has been making gains, some of his rivals are arguing he's noticeably to the left of the other GOP contenders.
An operative for an opposing GOP campaign pointed Business Insider to comments Kasich made about the Iran deal at an event on Monday as evidence of his liberalism relative to the rest of the field.
While many of the other leading GOP contenders have suggested they would nullify the nuclear agreement — with some pledging to rip it up on their "first day" in office — Kasich suggested he would keep it in place and police it. Though he noted he "wouldn't have" made the deal and hopes "against hope" that the Senate "will reject this deal," Kasich said he would "watch" it "every step of the way" if he takes office after the 2016 election.
The rival operative characterized this remark as proof Kasich is "the furthest to the left on standing up to Iran and defending Israel, which is emerging as a huge issue in the primary." The operative also argued this is just one issue on which Kasich is out of step with the rest of the Republican field.
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Specifically, the operative pointed to Kasich's support for expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and his past comments indicating he is unconcerned with the budget cuts that stemmed from sequestration and have hit the military. Opposition to both the Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as "Obamacare," and the sequester's defense cuts are widely seen as litmus-test issues for the GOP primary.
"He wants to keep the sequester, keep the deal with Iran, and expand Obamacare," the operative said. "Why not just vote for a Democrat? We need someone who's going to be unintimidated to take on the big fights in Washington — not just rearrange the desks in Obama's White House."
Another aide for a separate rival Republican campaign agreed with this criticism of Kasich. In fact, this operative argued Kasich is to the left of the GOP primary field "both on policy and rhetoric."
"A non-policy example, since those are kind of obvious, is how he refuses to criticize Hillary even when asked," the aide said.
As evidence, the aide pointed to what they described as "a really strange exchange" that occurred when Kasich was interviewed by conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt last month. During that conversation, Hewitt asked Kasich to "talk about Hillary for a moment." Kasich declined.
"Hugh, there's going to be plenty of time to talk about Hillary. Can we just, can I just talk about me and my record, and what I want to do, please?" Kasich asked.
Prior to his recent rise in the polls, many observers predicted being a relative moderate could actually be an asset for Kasich and help him stand out in the crowded GOP field. This conventional wisdom has been challenged by liberals who dispute the notion Kasich is more in line with their views than other Republicans. The idea Kasich is relatively left-leaning has also been vigorously denied by the man himself.
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Indeed, Kasich campaign spokesman Rob Nichols sent Business Insider a point-by-point rebuttal of the comments made by the two rival GOP campaign operatives. Nichols pointed out Kasich has said he would get rid of the caps on defense spending imposed by the sequester and that Kasich's interview with Hewitt included him vowing he's the Republican best suited to taking on Clinton. Additionally, Nichols argued Kasich wants to repeal Obamacare and has a record of opposition to the law.
"The governor is not for Obamacare but is committed to repealing it and replacing it with something actually reduces health care costs," Nichols said. "As governor, he said no to a state exchange, no to federal regulation of Ohio's health insurance market, and no to a federal takeover of Ohio's Medicaid eligibility determination. He's on record calling for Obamacare's repeal and replacement from the beginning and that hasn't changed."
On Iran, Nichols similarly pointed to Kasich's stated opposition for the deal. He also argued Kasich's suggestion he would "watch" the agreement if he becomes president doesn't rule out the possibility he would nullify it. Rather, Nichols claimed it simply wouldn't be smart for Kasich to "telegraph" to Iran how he would handle the situation if he takes office.
"The governor strongly opposes the Iran deal, would never have made it and hopes Congress rejects it. What others promise today they'll do to the deal if they're elected — and Congress fails to reject it — as proof of their so-called toughness, actually only betrays their inexperience," Nichols said.
"Experienced leaders don't telegraph their punches, presume to be able to predict the geopolitical landscape 15 months in the future, or ever make statements on foreign policy that restrict their freedom to maneuver. Since it's not a treaty, the Iran deal isn't even binding on future Administrations. The goal is to deny Iran a nuclear weapon and people should keep their eye on the goal."
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