DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Ohio's governor, John Kasich, is back on the national stage this week. He's out with a new memoir about his bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. The book is called "Two Paths: America Divided Or United." I spoke with Governor Kasich about the book and about the political environment today. In the opening pages, he wrote that what he witnessed in the campaign was beyond anything he had ever seen or imagined. So I asked Kasich what exactly he failed to see coming.
JOHN KASICH: The kind of rhetoric and the negativity and the put-downs and the kind of acid that was being spilled out there in the public dialogue - in my job, you make one of those statements, and you're dead, you know. But it seemed like none of this ever mattered. And I just couldn't believe that people could survive it.
GREENE: Donald Trump, of course, survived and won the nomination and then the presidency. Governor Kasich was the last candidate to drop out of the primaries. As he looks at this moment in history, Kasich sees Americans who witnessed traditional jobs disappearing. And some, he says, became fearful and self-absorbed.
KASICH: We have seen a tendency in our country to only care about ourselves. And I think we all have a tendency to be self-absorbed and not think about the person that's next to us. And I think you can judge a country by how often people rise above only self-absorption to being concerned about somebody else. I think we all need to live a life a little bigger than ourselves. And I sort of feel that the changes that we need in our country have to come from where we live to the top because I don't think politicians are going to get this right.
GREENE: Yeah, you do say this is not a crisis of leadership so much as a crisis of followship (ph). But what do you mean by followship?
KASICH: I think it's both. A leader needs to show you how they're going to take you to a better place. And once they create that, then the followers are critical. If the leader gets off track, then I think followers have a responsibility to speak out on that.
GREENE: I just want to be really clear here because...
GREENE: ...You have criticized Secretary Clinton for branding a lot of Trump voters as deplorable. And I'm not suggesting that you are doing that, per se. But...
KASICH: Oh, I'm absolutely not.
GREENE: ...It sounds like you are lecturing voters who supported President Trump a bit and suggesting that their judgment was wrong and that they were acting on fear. I mean, you're putting some of the onus on them.
KASICH: Well, no - this is what I'm saying. When people become unsettled in their economic circumstances, when they worry about their families - OK? - if somebody starts telling them, well, the reason you're in this situation is because somebody else ripped you off or took advantage of you, you just make people more depressed. And what I believe - and the two pass, back to my book - is that you have to recognize these serious problems. I mean, I lived in a community where people struggled. But you can give them a sense of hope.
GREENE: Do you think a steel worker or a coal miner in western Pennsylvania or Ohio wants to be told that they were taken advantage of if they voted for Donald Trump?
KASICH: First of all, I'm not going down that route to get into a Trump and all this. What I would tell them is - in our society today - with the internet, the apps, the smartphones, all these things - people want a quick fix. And I think what we need to understand is there are no quick fixes in life. It takes work. It's hard. And I think people know that. But they also have to hear an element of hope. You can't just say to them - well, you're stuck - or we turn our back on them. People who are hurting sometimes in our society - they're not the ones that we focus our attention on enough.
I mean, I'm going through this whole business of health care reform, Medicaid expansion. This is not a cavalier prospect that when people who have mental illness or drug addiction or chronically ill - that somehow, you know, we give them some flimsy little health care plan and they can't get the help they need. We have to pay attention to people who live in the shadows. We have to pay attention to people who have been displaced, and we have to pay attention to people who find themselves in difficult situations.
GREENE: Governor, your parents - when you were growing up in in McKees Rocks, Pa., outside Pittsburgh - they were postal workers. They were Democrats. I know you went off to college, and you wrangled your way into a meeting with Richard Nixon, when he was president, in the White House. But I guess I - just the central question for me, why did you become a Republican?
KASICH: Well, my mother actually became a Republican. If my father and mother were alive today - since the parties are becoming so jumbled now, I can't tell you - but they were conservative. And the reason why I became a Republican is I've always felt that Republicans did not represent rules and bureaucracy that would tangle me up. So I really believe that - government as a last resort but sometimes very necessary. Now, I want to continue to push that brand of conservatism that I believe in and hopefully be able to influence where not only my party is going but also where the country is going.
GREENE: How would you define your party as a whole right now at this moment?
KASICH: Well, I'm not happy with some of the things. I'm a free trader. I am concerned about the environment. I do believe in renewables. I'm very concerned about the rising level of debt. Immigration - I'm pro-immigration. The idea that we would send ICE agents around the country to, you know, interview people and maybe yank them out of their homes, I'm totally opposed to that. So I think, you know, the party's trying to figure out where it's going. And the Democratic Party, to me, is equally lost or even more lost. And I also happen to think that the political parties are becoming less and less relevant to young people.
GREENE: I'm struck by a couple of things. One is you saying that the parties are becoming less relevant. Another is that you wrote that you didn't go into politics to serve the Republican Party, (reading) the Republican Party is my vehicle not my master.
So would you consider running as an independent in 2020?
KASICH: No, no, no, no, no. I'm not - look, I wrote this book. These are observations of what I saw happening both in the campaign and what I see happening generally.
GREENE: Sure. But, I mean, apart from the book, would you run as an independent in the next election?
KASICH: No, I'm a Republican.
GREENE: You're a Republican.
KASICH: I'm a Republican. So I'm...
GREENE: So would you challenge Donald Trump for the Republican nomination in 2020?
KASICH: I have no interest in thinking about 2020 or another election. And probably - it is very unlikely that I will ever seek public office again. But I'm not going to quiet my voice. My voice is going to be out there as long as the public will listen to me and as long as I have a platform to speak.
GREENE: Governor, thanks for the time. Real pleasure talking to you.
KASICH: Thank you, David - very, very much. God bless.
(SOUNDBITE OF AARON PARKS' "KARMA")
GREENE: That was Governor John Kasich of Ohio. His new book is called "Two Paths: America Divided Or United."
(SOUNDBITE OF AARON PARKS' "KARMA")
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