Some GOP candidates drift toward making sense — sort of

Ten of the 2016 GOP presidential candidates pose before their first official debate last month. Brian Snyder | Reuters

Ten of the 2016 GOP presidential candidates pose before their first official debate last month. Brian Snyder | Reuters

Republicans are starting to say some of the darndest things.

And I’m not talking about the crazy stuff, like building a fence along the border with Canada, sending nasty grams on government stationary or ending birthright citizenship.

Sure, there’s plenty of that. And as Republican candidates for president and GOP governors struggle to capture attention in the wake of the reality TV campaign of Donald Trump, we’re likely to see more and more of it.

But, it seems, left with few options, some top-tier Republicans are actually starting to make sense.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, he of the halting speaking style and karate-chop hand motions, is leading the pack in this regard.

By most measures, it would be hard to describe Kasich as a moderate. But after a Lansing Chamber of Commerce meeting this week, Kasich spoke favorably of raising the minimum wage.

Now, he stopped short of a full-throated endorsement, but as the Huffington Post reported first, his comments set him apart from most other Republicans running for president.

Kasich said he could support a “reasonable” increase in the minimum wage, while declining to discuss specific numbers.

“I wouldn’t get into numbers right now,” he said, according to the Huffington Post. “I just think you have to be realistic, and management and labor can sit down and talk about what is an effective way to help.”

Then the governor pointed to the wage in Ohio, which is $8.10 an hour and indexed to inflation. It’s a number smaller than a living wage that’s being debated nationally and in Maine right now, but a definite improvement over $7.25, the spot where the federal minimum wage has been since 2009.

Kasich’s position on the minimum wage comes after one of the non-Trump memorable moments from the first televised Republican presidential debate, held by Fox News in Ohio.

While most of the candidates did their best to attack Obamacare, a remarkably successful health care reform law that has substantially reduced the number of people without health insurance in the country while beating cost expectations, Kasich defended his decision to expand Medicaid to provide health care to thousands of Ohioans under the law.

Again, like the minumum wage, he did hedge. He has said he doesn’t support Obamacare, but he also said this: “We brought a program in here to make sure that people get on their feet. And you know what, everybody has a right to their God-given purpose.”

He also talked about how the expansion of Medicaid is helping fight the horror of drug addiction, mental illness and helping the working poor to get on their feet.

But Kasich isn’t the only Republican who’s connecting with populist — and what might be considered Democratic — ideas.

Trump, the flame that draws most of the moths so far in the Republican primary, has — in his own, very special way — attacked money in politics and the influence of special interests.

In Iowa on Tuesday, the billionaire reiterated a point he’s made several times: He doesn’t need to raise money from lobbyists and special interests, so he won’t be beholden to them when they come looking for favors.

Reporting for Slate, Jamelle Bouie tied at least part of Trump’s early race success to this attack on the powers that be. The anti-government sentiment that’s driving a large piece of the electorate is fed, in part, by the feeling that the political system is rigged against the working class.

As Bouie writes: “Who better to stop special interests and wealthy corporations than a rich man who doesn’t need their money, who isn’t beholden to either party, and is ready to drive the hardest deal possible?”

Like with the minimum wage, we see this debate playing out in Maine as there is strong, bipartisan and growing support for Question 1 on November’s ballot, which would limit the impact of money on political campaigns, increase transparency and make penalties for breaking campaign finance law tougher.

Whether it’s health care, the minimum wage or money in politics, there’s strong support among voters, which will be helpful to any candidate who makes it out of the primary and into the general election.

But for Republicans there remains one final frontier. Background checks on guns.

Public Policy Polling, in a poll released Tuesday, found that 78 percent of Republican primary voters support “requiring a criminal background check of every person who wants to buy a firearm.”

Republican candidates trying to find the magic mix for success in the general election are starting to step out on the minimum wage, health care, immigration, and money in politics.

Can background checks be far behind?

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at