BEXLEY, Ohio— Outgoing Ohio Gov. John Kasich said Thursday that he’d prefer to run for president as a Republican, but only if he’s entering a primary he could win.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Kasich acknowledged he probably couldn’t defeat President Donald Trump if the election were held today.
He says he’s seriously considering his options and letting his advisers monitor the daily troubles Trump is facing, including talk of impeachment.
“If you’re going to run as a Republican you have to have a sense that if you get into primaries you can win. Right now, probably couldn’t win,” he told the AP. “But that’s today. It’s ever changing.”
Primary challenges against incumbent presidents are rare but not unprecedented. The last time it happened was in 1992, when Republican Pat Buchanan unsuccessfully challenged President George H.W. Bush. Twelve years earlier, Democrat Ted Kennedy mounted a challenge to President Jimmy Carter.
Kasich, leaving office after eight years because of term limits, has previously made two presidential runs. Should he enter the Republican fray in 2020, it would put in play his electorally critical home state, which Kasich won resoundingly in the 2016 primary against Trump and others.
Kasich didn’t address recent developments such as Wednesday’s sentencing of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to three years in prison for crimes that included arranging the payment of hush money to conceal Trump’s alleged sexual affairs.
Kasich said he’s been told there’s money around the country for a run but acknowledged that fundraising would be a factor.
“If you’re not around the hoop, you can’t get a rebound,” Kasich said. “So we’re hanging around the hoop, and we’re very serious about this. How would we not be?”
“It’s not like I wouldn’t do it,” he said of a potential run. “You can’t be afraid to do it.”
Trump said in a Fox-TV interview Thursday that he hopes Kasich or retiring Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake mount a primary challenge.
Kasich’s political adviser John Weaver responded: “Be careful what you wish for.”
Kasich was the last primary challenger left in the GOP race when he stepped down in 2016, even though he only won his home state of Ohio. But he has been a consistent critic of Trump since then, dinging the president on everything from tax cuts that weren’t paid for to the immigration policy of family separation.
Asked if Trump has done anything he agrees with, Kasich said border control, lower taxes, and higher financial contributions from European allies are all needed. But the president has set too negative a tone when he’s not wrong, with an overall “dismal” record, Kasich said.
“Tariffs are a bad idea. Debt is a bad idea. Family separation is a bad idea. Demonizing immigrants is a bad idea. And breaking down our alliances is bad too,” Kasich said.
The Ohio Democratic Party chairman, no fan of many of Kasich’s actions as governor, said Thursday that he admired Kasich’s willingness to take on Trump.
“For the sake of the country, I do think having someone, one person in that party, willing to actually speak out, is something that’s a good thing,” chairman David Pepper said.
Dressed in slacks, a pullover and casual shoes, Kasich spoke for about 30 minutes at the governor’s residence in suburban Bexley, about 2 miles (3 kilometers) from his downtown Columbus offices. Unlike previous governors, Kasich chose not to live in the residence, keeping his home in another Columbus suburb.
Kasich said he’s not worried about defending his anti-Trump positions to the Republican National Committee in the event of another run, saying he goes “right to the folks.”
Though Republicans control nearly all statewide offices in Ohio, Kasich has faced problems with his own party here. He backed expansion of Medicaid over party members, and also unsuccessfully pushed for taxes on the oil and gas industry because of booming revenue from natural gas fracking.
Just this month, Republican state lawmakers have pushed a strict abortion ban Kasich previously vetoed and a gun bill leaving out a Kasich-backed measure that would allow gun rights to be temporarily stripped from people who show warning signs of violence.
The governor called those actions a political consideration by fellow Ohio Republicans he had no plans to fight over.
He also said he didn’t want to be known as a critic of Trump, but rather as a national voice for every person mattering, and every person thinking about their impact on the world.
“These things matter to me a great deal, in that we can all live a life a little bigger than ourselves,” Kasich said.