John Kasich's quest to reshape the Republican Party

Gov. Kasich: 'I'm worried about America'
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NEW YORK (CNN)The graveyard of presidential politics is littered with White House hopefuls who were convinced they could run a successful campaign that defied party orthodoxy on big issues, rejected the soundbite driven media culture and assumed an easy application of experience-to-date to the national political stage.

It's proof that concocting the winning mix remains largely elusive. But Ohio Gov. John Kasich is obviously on a mission to find the proper alchemy.
The Republican put his desire on display Wednesday at a meeting with reporters, fresh from his trip to New Hampshire where he road-tested his potential 2016 message.
Kasich defends Ohio's use of Medicaid expansion money
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Kasich defends Ohio's use of Medicaid expansion money 00:57
    "If you don't help the mentally ill, they end up in a prison or in a jail or on the streets. There's a societal cost to that that's ongoing," Kasich said at a lunch hosted by Bloomberg View. "If you don't help the working poor to figure out a way to become independent, there's a societal to cost to that as well."
    "And I think when people hear what the message is about everybody deserves a chance, everybody needs to be helped, I think that's an American message. I think that's a message that people relate to," he said.
    Kasich's case for a fiscal conservatism that is rewarded by a greater human experience as much as a surplus budget is essential to his potential candidacy, where many conservative voters may criticize his decision to expand Medicaid in his state by accepting federal money made available through Obamacare.
    The former House Budget Committee chairman -- who has been barnstorming the country trying to get enough states on board to ratify a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution -- says fiscal conservatism can't simply be about getting the ledger sheet to show a surplus. It must also be about applying that available money to the right kinds of programs to help socioeconomically disadvantaged Americans help themselves to a brighter future.
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    "I don't like the term, particularly, 'compassionate conservative,' because that implies that we just give people something and that's the end of it," Kasich said. "Our idea is you help them so that they can get in a position where they can help themselves and break whatever cycle they may be a part of."
    His is a brand of politics that may be coming into its moment within the GOP.
    For years the Republican Party has steadfastly played the role of the loyal opposition to President Barack Obama by decrying his proposals and promising to undo his major initiatives -- most prominently Obamacare.
    But the class of emerging 2016 White House candidates is full of those seeking to move beyond that rhetoric.
    Sens. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have all tried to burnish their credentials pressing forward on issues such as prison reform, assistance for drug addicts and the mentally ill and greater social mobility.
    Kasich, however, may be alone in making these policy proposals the very centerpiece of his campaign.
    "Who are these people who are defining what it means to be a conservative?" Kasich asked, taking head-on those who criticize decision to expand Medicaid and willingness to consider a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants currently in the United States.
    Kasich acknowledged some of his positions were out of step with the party base, but was undeterred.
    "Maybe people who say those things are reshaping the party; We have a right to reshape it. Ronald Reagan reshaped it," he said, name-checking the transformative conservative icon.
    Kasich did concede one area of weakness though -- he would have to hone his campaign skills if he takes the leap.
    "Either I practice or I don't do it," he said, admitting he would have a tough time making substantive points about prison reform, say, in a 45-second debate answer.
    Kasich also demonstrated he still has brushing up to do on some policy issues before he can fully dive into a credible presidential campaign, punting on a question about how we would alter the financial services and banking reform law known as Dodd-Frank.
    "I have to get back to you on the financial regulation," he said.
    On foreign policy, he touted his 18 years on the House Armed Services Committee, but only offered the general critique that America's relationship with world leaders -- or lack thereof -- is the primary problem, declining to delve into specifics.
    Electability, Kasich said, is key -- he is fond of saying how extremism won't play in Ohio.
    He touted his huge re-election victory in one of the most significant battleground states in the country -- which included receiving 26% of the African-American vote -- as the very model the Republican Party needs to follow for success.
    "I want people to hear what I think about these foundational American values of personal responsibility, resilience, family and faith," he said. "There are things that people can learn from somebody who leads a state like Ohio which is, frankly, a microcosm of the country."
    The challenge for Kasich won't be a lack of ideas or energy or enthusiasm for the road ahead. His challenge will be convincing the conservative activists that dominate the primary electorate that so-called compassionate conservatism -- the very label Kasich is loathe to embrace -- deserves a second chance.
    "If it doesn't work, I'm not doing it to make it work. I'm doing it because it is what I want to do," he said.