Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Tuesday issued a clear, stark warning for what he sees as the "two paths" forward for the country in the 2016 race, deriding the policy proposals and tone of "vicious" attacks launched between his rivals, and calling the election one of the most consequential in history.
In remarks to the Women's National Republican Club in Midtown Manhattan, the Republican presidential candidate alluded to his opponents Donald Trump and Ted Cruz while cautioning his party and the nation against what he sees as "the path that exploits anger, encourages resentment, turns fear into hatred and divides people."
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"This path solves nothing, demeans our history, weakens our country and cheapens each of us. It has but one beneficiary and that is to the politician who speaks of it," he said. "The other path is the one America has been down before. It is well trod, it is at times steep, but it is solid."
Although Kasich never mentioned his GOP competitors by name, his targets were clear. He listed off a string of policy proposals that Donald Trump or Ted Cruz have floated -- including a religious test for immigrants, targeting of Muslim neighborhoods for surveillance, imposing 'draconian' tariffs, dropping out of NATO, instituting a value-added tax, and "whimsical cuts in 'fraud, waste and abuse.'"
"I have stood on a stage and watched with amazement as candidates wallowed in the mud, viciously attacked one another, called each other liars and disparaged each other's character," Kasich said. "Those who continuously push that type of behavior are not worthy of the office they are seeking."
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The speech comes at a moment in Kasich's campaign when he lags far behind Trump and Cruz in delegates for the Republican nomination and when his only hope of snagging the GOP nomination would be a contested convention in Cleveland this summer. His speech in New York City offered him the chance to flatly outline many of the critiques of Trump and Cruz he has offered on the campaign trail but before a wider audience in the nation's media capital.
Consistently maintaining he will "not take the low road to the highest office in the land," Kasich has become more and more comfortable distinguishing himself and drawing sharp contrasts with his GOP rivals in recent weeks. But his speech Tuesday serves as a particularly crisp warning about his concerns with other candidates and the nation's political climate.
As Kasich outlined a "path to darkness" in his speech, he described people who view the country "as a broken place, and the people who did the breaking are 'the other:' people with more money—or less money, people with different-sounding last names, or different religious beliefs, or different colored skin or lifestyles."
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"Some who feed off of the fears and anger that is felt by some of us and exploit it feed their own insatiable desire for fame or attention," he proclaimed, then alluded to the slogan of GOP frontrunner Donald Trump: "That could drive America down into a ditch, not make us great again."
On the campaign trail, Kasich has voiced exasperation with other candidates who he feels make promises they know are unattainable, and called out those actions Tuesday morning: "Just as an all-consuming fear of America in decline ends in visions of America's destruction, a political strategy based on exploiting Americans instead of lifting them up inevitably leads to divisions, paranoia, isolation, and promises that can never, ever be fulfilled."
As Kasich outlined the second path he sees - the one he's making the argument he could be part of - he claimed, "America's supposed decline becomes its finest hour, because we came together to say "no" to those who would prey on our human weakness and instead chose leadership that serves, helping us look up, not down."