[Follow our live analysis of the Biden inauguration.]
Former Govt. John R. Kasich from Ohio, the last standing candidate against Donald J. Trump for the Republican nomination four years ago, crossed the partisan divide Monday night to speak at the Democratic National Convention and call on his fellow Republicans to step down from the president in November.
In a move that would have been unthinkable once for a committed Republican who worked for decades in Ohio state house and in Congress for conservative causes, Kasich said the country could not afford four Mr. Trump’s more years in the White House because he pitted Americans against each other.
“I have been a longtime Republican, but this dedication takes a back seat to my responsibility to my country,” Kasich said in his speech, which was taped at a literal country crossroads in Westerville, Ohio, to signify the choice he faces. the nation. “That’s why I chose to participate in this convention. Under normal circumstances, something like this would probably never happen. But these are not normal times. “
Mr. Kasich offered a warm testimony to the former vice president Joseph R. Biden Jr., who is expected to be ratified as a Democratic candidate this week, calling him a “good man, man of faith, unifier”. And he sought to refute Mr. Trump’s argument that Mr. Biden was a weak-willed captive of his party’s “radical left”.
“I’m sure there are Republicans and Independents who couldn’t imagine crossing over to support a Democrat,” Kasich said. “They’re worried that Joe will turn sharply left and leave them behind. I do not believe that. Because I know the measure of man – reasonable, faithful, respectful. And you know, nobody pushes Joe around.
Three other disenchanted Republican political leaders joined Mr. Kasich to address the convention on its first night – former Governor Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, former Rep. Susan Molinari of New York and Meg Whitman, the general manager of Quibi and a former candidate for governor of California. A series of regular Republican voters were also shown in taped messages supporting Mr Biden.
But it was not clear if any of them would attract other Republicans in large numbers. The leaders featured were rising stars in their time, but their time goes back a long way. Ms. Molinari was the keynote speaker at Republican National Convention in 1996. Ms. Whitman’s last election as governor was in 1997. Mr. Kasich served more recently, but won only one primary in 2016, in his home state of Ohio .
But Mr Kasich said in an interview before the speech that he could not remain silent. Four years ago, when he refused to vote for Mr. Trump, he also couldn’t bring himself to vote for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and instead wrote to Senator John McCain. This time, he said, the election was too important to lose his vote.
“I just wasn’t going to do it this time around,” he said in the interview. “I did it the last time. You know, I had always hoped, even after the convention and after the election, that we might see a change of president, but we never did. I happen to think it is the soul of our country that is damaged, and that is what concerns me. “
Mr Kasich, 68, was an unlikely speaker at a Democratic convention. As the hot-headed young chairman of the House Budget Committee, he launched himself with maniacal energy into a budget cutting mission as part of Newt Gingrich’s Republican revolution in the 1990s and then clashed with the unions as governor allied to the conservative Tea Party in the 2010s. moved away from the sharper edges of politics in recent years, focusing on issues of poverty and mental illness and even break with conservatives to expand Medicaid under President Barack Obama’s Health Care Act.
Mr Kasich insisted his opposition to the president is not driven by sour grapes. “I have no personal anger or anything towards him, I just don’t have any,” Kasich said. “It’s nothing to take personally. I fundamentally disagree with the whole approach, and I am deeply concerned for our nation. I think if we continue this I worry about how we will one day recover. “
The president, on the other hand, had no qualms about making it personal. “He was a loser as a Republican and he will be a loser as a Democrat,” Mr. Trump told reporters on Air Force One hours before Mr. Kasich’s speech. “Big loser as a Republican. I guess you can quote me on that. John was a loser as a Republican. Never even approached. And as a Democrat, he will be an even bigger loser.
Not all Democrats have welcomed Mr. Kasich either. For some on the left, the party was abandoning its principles by presenting a Republican whose positions on abortion, social security, labor and other issues were at odds with Democratic orthodoxy. Among Democrats polled by CBS News, only 38% wanted to hear Mr. Kasich speak at the convention, compared to 72% for Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and 63% for Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, two liberal champions who will also benefit from airtime .
“The party should focus on energizing Democratic voters rather than using their convention to reassure billionaires, corporate donors and Republican lobbyists that they will not try to challenge the status quo,” David said. Sirota, former speechwriter for Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who also speaks Monday night.
Mr. Biden and his allies have argued that Democrats should welcome anyone to their battle to remove Mr. Trump from the White House, and that a purity test would be self-destructive.
“It’s great to see Kasich as a speaker at our convention,” said former Michigan Governor James J. Blanchard, a Biden delegate and a Democrat, because Mr. Kasich “represents this group of Independents and Republicans. moderate “. seeking to win.
Mr. Kasich’s break with the Republicans was a concession to the President’s leadership over the party. He considered, but chose not to run against Mr. Trump for the Republican nomination this time around. “I couldn’t win. He’s a non-runner, ”he said categorically. “There was no way to get traction.”
Mr Kasich said he remained a Republican and admitted he had deep disagreements with Mr Biden on issues, but said the individual political differences were less important than the larger crisis the country was facing. .
“Someone has to start wanting to break this tribalism,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll get there, but someone has to start. Someone has to be able to start saying, “No, you have to take your partisan hat off and you have to realize that we are Americans. “
“Nothing great has ever been achieved in this country where we are fighting as we are now, nothing,” he added. “And important things can be accomplished when there is respect on all sides, regardless of some fundamental differences.”
Michael Shear contributed reporting.