John Kasich told Business Insider in a recent interview that if the Republican Party didn't "evolve," he "won't be a part of it."
The Ohio governor and one-time 2016 Republican presidential contender made the comments while discussing trade policy and the stance of Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, who has championed a fiercely protectionist trade platform. In fact, the billionaire once likened the landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement to "the rape of our country."
"I will tell you that if the Republican Party does not evolve, the Republican Party is going to die," Kasich said. "The Republican Party cannot be antitrade, anti-immigrant, not out there practicing the politics of people, you know, the issues surrounding drug addiction and mental illness and the cost of prescription drugs and healthcare and student debt and all of these things are very personal to people now.
"And if the party wants to have an ideological debate, it's never going to win anything in a major way," he continued. "So I do believe that the party needs to evolve, or I won't be a part of it."
In September, Kasich visited the White House to discuss TPP, the free-trade agreement between the US and 11 other Pacific Rim nations. He later took questions at a press briefing where he explained why he was supporting the centerpiece of President Barack Obama's "pivot to Asia" in foreign policy.
During his interview with Business Insider, Kasich explained that as long as the Obama administration was "deadly serious" about getting TPP passed, "which they tell me they are," Kasich said he'd "help them any way I can."
"Whatever it takes," he said. "I think it's very important obviously from an economic point of view because of the need for innovation, for progress, to improve the standard of living of people. But I also think it's a critical issue in geopolitics too. With all those fledgling countries in Asia, who really want to stand with us but they live under the shadow of China and the smaller shadow of Russia. So I just think it's really important both economically and geopolitically."
He said Obama would have to "engage" both Democrats and Republicans in a "very personal way" to get TPP through Congress, which he thinks has a chance to happen during the lame-duck session.
"He needs to tell them that this is something that America, the United States of America, needs," he said. "Not Republican. It's not Democrat. It's America."
Though Kasich said he had never "worshipped at the alter of free trade," he had "always" been in favor of it.
Kasich contended, however, that one of the biggest reasons the discussion about free trade has turned so negative is that the US has a "lousy" system for retraining workers who have lost factory jobs.
"And, you know I just don't see anybody that's particularly interested in fixing that," he said. "They think it's fixed, but it's not fixed. So, we need a dramatic improvement in the way we train people who get displaced. Furthermore, when there is cheating, the cheating needs to be called. And I see that the administration has become much more aggressive on that front."
But the notion that states such as Ohio are dependent on manufacturing jobs returning is one with which he vehemently disagrees.
"Manufacturing is still very important to us, but we are much more diversified state," he said. "And furthermore, anybody that says the steel mills are coming back to Youngstown is not telling the truth. They're not coming back. You could have some aspects of advanced manufacturing appear. But if you look even at Pittsburgh, where I grew up, you've now replaced steel jobs with technology jobs, and they pay better."
"So, I know that, you know, leaders have to lead," Kasich continued. "I don't read polls to decide what I'm going to do. But for the best interest of the people of our state, having a big mix of technology, healthcare, IT, financial services, and manufacturing is the ticket. To put all of your eggs in one basket is silly. We did that for a long time and I don't think it's very smart."
Even though Trump's poll numbers in Ohio are among his best in any swing state, the Ohio governor said he didn't think that protectionist message was popular in the Buckeye State.
"When you ask people do they believe that we ought to have trade, I think people understand it's important," he said. "Now I think that they are hung up on, you know, that people cheat and we don't enforce the laws, and I think that's correct. But I don't think people want to just say, 'We're not going to trade with anybody.' I don't accept that. I really don't care. I'm going to be like one of these deniers — I don't care what the polls say."
Kasich concluded: "I think people intuitively know that trade is good for our country, we just have to get the right trade agreements."
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