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Failed Presidential Candidate John Kasich: ‘I Have A Right To Define What It Means To Be A Conservative’

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NEW YORK - MARCH 30: GOP Presidential Candidate John Kasich speaks with the audience during a town hall meeting at St. Helen's Roman Catholic Church on March 30, 2016 in the Queens neighborhood of New York City. Kasich is one of three remaining GOP Presidential Candidates fighting for New York's 95 Republican delegates in the upcoming primary on April 19, 2016.
Bryan Thomas/Getty Images

John Kasich, who ran a failed Republican presidential campaign in 2016, told CNN this week that he has a “right” to define what it means to be a conservative as he prepares to speak at the Democratic National Convention next week.

CNN host Erin Burnett highlighted examples in the past of politicians who crossed over the aisle to endorse a presidential nominee from an opposing party and then asked Kasich if he was worried about being “blackballed” by the GOP.

“I think I have a right to define what it means to be a conservative, and that means a government when necessary, not opposed to it. That what the conservative movement ought to be is opportunity for everyone,” Kasich said. “The Republican Party ought to be a party that has a positive message of lifting everyone.”

“But, you know, Erin, look. Leaders walk a lonely road. If you’re not prepared to walk a lonely road and do the things that your conscience tells you to do, then how do you think about yourself when you look in the mirror?” Kasich continued. “I mean, I’m comfortable with the decisions I make. Of course, there’s blowback. Republicans are critical. Some are praising me. Democrats are debating themselves. Should he be able to do this?”

“But this is not an unusual place for me to be,” Kasich added. “I’ve been a reformer almost all of my life. I’ve been very independent. I’m a Republican, but the Republican Party has always been my vehicle, but never my master. You have to do what you think is right in your heart, and I’m comfortable here.”

WATCH:

TRANSCRIPT PROVIDED VIA CNN:

CNN HOST ERIN BURNETT: Tonight, one of the headline speakers during next week’s DNC will be a Republican, former Ohio governor and current CNN senior political commentator John Kasich will give a speech to make the case for Joe Biden. Governor Kasich is now OUTFRONT.

And, Governor, I appreciate your time.

So, you know, last time around obviously, you didn’t support Donald Trump. You wrote in another Republican, John McCain, for president, which is a far cry from actually supporting the Democratic candidate for president, right? You were anti-Trump but you were not taking that extra step. What changed?

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Conscience, Erin. You know, the reason I didn’t support Trump the last time is I was afraid that he would be a divider and not a unifier, and our best leaders, historically, have been unifiers, Republicans and Democrats. But, unfortunately, as I’ve watched him over the last three and a half years now, he’s continued to do that. And I don’t think the country does well when we’re divided. And so I had to search my conscience. When the Democrats asked me to speak, I had to think about it. And I believe we need a new direction.

We just can’t keep going the way that we’re going because I know historically – and I served in the Congress, I was governor – what I’ve known is that when people work together, remarkable and good things can happen. But when we constantly are divided, when we can’t work together, you know, we can see what’s happening when we look at Washington even today.

So, it was necessary to do this, and I felt it’s the right thing to do, and I would encourage other Republicans to know that it’s okay to take off a partisan hat, take off your partisan hat and vote on the basis of what your conscience tells you about the future of our country, not just for yourself, but for your kids as well.

BURNETT: You are a moderate, right? You are not someone who represents the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which is hugely influential right now. Yet you are comfortable with Joe Biden. Why is that? What has made you come to the conclusion?

KASICH: First of all, I’m a conservative, which is the interesting thing. Why would I say that? Well, I was the chairman of the Budget Committee when we balanced the budget in Washington.

BURNETT: Yeah.

KASICH: We ran surpluses for a number of years and surpluses. And over here in Ohio, we fixed the state and cut taxes and grew almost a half a million jobs and left almost 3 billion in our rainy day fund for the governor we have now.

So I’m conservative. And people are going to say, ‘Oh, well, he’s really not.’ Yes I have been. But I believe that Biden can bring us together.

I’m going to disagree with Joe on things, and they expected that when they asked me to do this. I said, ‘Yeah, there’s things I’m going to disagree with Biden on. There’s things I’m concerned about.’

But at the end of the day, I think he’s a man of faith. I think he is a man – look, his history has been an ability to bring people together. That’s the way it was when I was in Congress, when we balanced the budget, [when we] were able to do welfare reform.

And I think he can restore civility, and I don’t think he’ll go hard left. I think he is a pretty tough guy. So I’m comfortable with the fact that he would be our leader. And I expect he’ll have Republicans that will be part of anything he does going forward. That’s the way – that’s his nature; that’s been his history. And he’s a man of deep faith and, you know, a man that has suffered some tremendous grief that has shaped his character. All some of the things I will talk about in my speech.

BURNETT: So, you know, what you’re doing is going to stand out. And it has when it has happened before. I’m thinking of Zell Miller, then Democratic senator, you know, who spoke for President Bush at the RNC in 2004. And then it was Joe Lieberman, who was an independent but caucused with the Democrats and in 2008, he spoke at the RNC and supported John McCain.

You know, they both became persona non grata in their party, right? They were, you know, blackballed. Are you worried the same could happen to you?

KASICH: I think I have a right to define what it means to be a conservative, and that means a government when necessary, not opposed to it. That what the conservative movement ought to be is opportunity for everyone. The Republican Party ought to be a party that has a positive message of lifting everyone.

But, you know, Erin, look. Leaders walk a lonely road. If you’re not prepared to walk a lonely road and do the things that your conscience tells you to do, then how do you think about yourself when you look in the mirror?

I mean, I’m comfortable with the decisions I make. Of course, there’s blowback. Republicans are critical. Some are praising me. Democrats are debating themselves. Should he be able to do this?

But this is not an unusual place for me to be. I’ve been a reformer almost all of my life. I’ve been very independent. I’m a Republican, but the Republican Party has always been my vehicle, but never my master. You have to do what you think is right in your heart,j and I’m comfortable here.

BURNETT: So, Southern Baptist minister, he’s ordained, Mike Huckabee, said the other day in part, ‘I don’t know if anybody, people of faith who think Joe Biden is a great choice. I tell you they’re not going to go with Biden. That’s not an option.’

What do you say?

KASICH: Well, I’m clued into a lot of people of faith, a number of them, who are very happy that I’m making this decision. I can give you names. I don’t want to say it on the air, but I can give you names of them if we have to come back and do that.

And the fact is, is that, you know, faith is a matter of your personal relationship. And so, I don’t know why that’s been said about Joe. I think he is a man of faith. I don’t sit down and talk about all of his religion with him. But I’m comfortable with him.

And like I say, I consider myself to be a man of faith. A flawed man of faith for sure, but aren’t we all? So I don’t think anybody can speak for the entire faith community and try to say that this person’s good and that person isn’t. A lot of people scratch their heads about why some of these very conservative evangelicals support Trump. It seems not to be consistent with the things that they believe in, as promoted in the Old and New Testament.

BURNETT: Right. Thank you very much, Governor Kasich. I appreciate your time.

KASICH: All right, Erin.

BURNETT: And, of course, Governor Kasich [is] going to be speaking next week at the convention for Joe Biden.

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