The candidate that can unify America? He isn’t the most popular
The old Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times” perfectly captures the mood of the unfolding U.S. presidential election
The old Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times” perfectly captures the mood of the unfolding U.S. presidential election, as anti-establishment candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders secured landslide victories in Tuesday’s primary in New Hampshire. Both have promised to take on special interests while pledging to make Washington accountable to the American people.
Discontent with the status quo is not new to U.S. politics. It was only eight years ago that a young and charismatic senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, pledged to bring “change we can believe in” to Washington. While his compelling message and inspirational background helped secure his initial election victory, Obama is leaving office as a polarizing leader who has been unable to find common ground with Congressional Republicans.
Conservatives are turning to Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, whose campaign focuses on “protecting” the U.S. constitution by pledging to undo Obama’s signature achievements if elected. Trump has used inflammatory and increasingly vulgar rhetoric throughout his campaign, and remains a divisive candidate at best. Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, has meanwhile declared war on corporate America.
Hillary Clinton, the long-assumed Democratic frontrunner, is struggling to convince primary voters discontent with the status quo why they should elect her. She has made no apparent attempt to become a unifying leader, as she continues to dismiss legitimate criticism as a “rightwing conspiracy.”
Unfortunately for Clinton, voters continue to question her trustworthiness as she struggles to put a high-profile email scandal behind her, while avoiding answering questions about how her husband Bill could continue to receive donations from foreign leaders for his foundation while she served as secretary of state.
While Trump, Cruz and Sanders are cynically tapping into widespread anger among voters, they - along with Clinton - appear uninterested and incapable of unifying America. Should any of these candidates win, the country’s culture wars are expected to continue with more partisan gridlock in Washington.
Then enters Republican Governor John Kasich of Ohio, who secured second place in New Hampshire - behind Trump - despite having struggled throughout the campaign to get traction for his positive messages. Kasich is the ultimate political insider, whose impressive career includes successfully negotiating a balanced budget with President Clinton in the 1990s, to turning Ohio’s struggling economy around by securing a massive budget surplus.
These achievements were secured without cutting vital programs for the poor, which underscore why Kasich is the only candidate to have cross-party appeal. He, unlike many of his Republican rivals, understands that some government assistance is necessary to help those living in the shadows.
However, unlike Sanders and Clinton, Kasich has not declared war on corporate America as he understand that excessive regulations and out-of-control government spending serve as barriers to economic growth.
Kasich also speaks openly about the urgent need to build confidence between the police and the communities they serve, as racial tensions are tragically hitting new low points after numerous unarmed black men have been killed by white police officers. Police violence and apparent racial profiling are not only bad for race relations, but ultimately threaten the very fabric of America’s diverse society.
Kasich has also criticized Trump for stirring up anti-Muslim sentiment. This negative trend is exasperated by Trump and Cruz appealing to white nativist sentiment, while Clinton and Sanders are battling one another for minority votes.
These factors could contribute to America’s increasingly polarized discourse, with the added danger of race relations deteriorating further should Trump, Cruz, Sanders or Clinton win, as each one of them are playing the dangerous game of identity politics.
As Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has pointed out, this election is a referendum not only about the role of government, but also about the character of this nation. Americans must fight for an inclusive society, not one divided by race, religion or economic differences.
While the belligerent rhetoric of Trump and Cruz threatens the very fabric of what America is all about, the class-warfare rhetoric of Sanders and Clinton is equally dangerous. Scapegoating the “billionaire class” - a veiled reference to those who have done well - for America’s many problems, including inequality, is inherently anti-American as this country was built on a dream that everyone can succeed through hard work and determination.
The rise of Kasich to a potential frontrunner-in-waiting by presenting the Republican electorate with an alternative to Trump and Cruz is a glimmer of hope that conservatives may elect an experienced leader who can help unify the nation.
Between his compassionate pro-growth record and refusal to engage in demagogic rhetoric, Kasich has the necessary experience and vision to bring the country back on track, which is precisely what the electorate seems to want. Hopefully, Americans will be smart enough to realize that preserving their country’s greatness is about bringing people together, not advancing culture wars by engaging in identity politics.
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