Political columnist Matt Bai recently got an old-fashioned Jewish guilt trip for skipping synagogue, and not from his rabbi or his Jewish mother, but from an evangelical Christian politician angling for the White House.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who this week officially joined the jam-packed race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, is an ardent Protestant. But when he sat down with Bai in Columbus, Ohio, on Friday, he went with a JDate-style icebreaker: “Do you go to synagogue?”
Bai, who spent years covering politics for the New York Times Magazine before moving to Yahoo News, admitted in a recent feature on Kasich that the question made him feel “oddly shamed.” And Kasich didn’t stop at asking about Bai’s shul attendance.
“Do you read the Torah?” the governor pressed. “Maybe you should. Do you realize how much wisdom there is for life?”
On paper, Kasich is a near-perfect Republican presidential candidate, Bai noted. The son of a mailman, Kasich was elected to Congress when he was 30 and went on to become the chairman of the powerful House of Representatives Budget Committee, where he helped balance budgets in the 1990s.
After a decade working for Lehman Brothers and hosting his own show on Fox News, Kasich was elected governor in 2010. Last year he was reelected with 64 percent of the vote, having presided over an impressive economic turnaround.
Yet Kasich is not discussed as a top-tier candidate, and his supporters worry that unscripted “riffs” — part of an “impetuous” and “self-involved” public persona, according to Bai — aren’t helping. On the other hand, a certain bombastic billionaire is currently leading the Republican field.
Even if the whole leading the Free World thing doesn’t work out, Kasich has indicated he’ll be just fine. Speaking in April about a potential presidential run, he said, “If they like it, great. If they don’t like it, I’ll play more golf.”