Fact Checking Kasich's Debate

The true, the false and the befuddling from Kasich's performance at the sixth GOP primary debate

click to enlarge Budgetary magic!
Budgetary magic!

Last night’s sixth GOP presidential primary debate was crunch time for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is looking to bolster his chances in early primary states Iowa and New Hampshire in a last-ditch effort to keep his campaign viable. Reviews of his performance from pundits were mixed, though he did have a few good moments in which he was able to balance the quieter, more reserved performance we saw in the first few debates with the louder, more boisterous interruptions that marked his most-recent appearance on the debate stage. We’ll know more in the coming days how primary voters reacted to Kasich ahead of the Feb. 1 Iowa primary and the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary.

In the meantime, let’s take a look at a few claims Kasich made during the debate. You can follow along with the full debate transcript here.

1. “… I was in Washington when we had a balanced budget; had four years of balanced budgets; paid down a half-trillion of debt. And our economy was growing like crazy.”

He was there, but some experts say he can't take much of the credit for it.

Kasich was, in fact, in Congress from 1997 to 2001, the years when the budget was balanced under President Bill Clinton. Though Kasich was head of the House Budget Committee and thus can claim much credit for the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, many economists argue that act actually did little to balance the budget. Budget deficits had been falling for years by that point, a consequence of massive economic growth that had already begun, coupled with tax increases in 1993 that Kasich opposed. Further, the act mostly set limits on the federal government’s discretionary spending that weren’t put into place anyway.

Even fiscally conservative economists concede this.

“We have a balanced budget today that is mostly a result of 1) an exceptionally strong economy that is creating gobs of new tax revenues, and 2) a shrinking military budget," libertarian economist Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute wrote then.

Kasich also argued during the debate that deficit reduction and economic growth "require tax cuts, because that sends a message to the job creators that things are headed the right way,” he said during last night’s debate. “...If you cut taxes for corporations, and you cut taxes for individuals, you’re going to make things move…”

Ironically, the surplus that came in the late 1990s would not have existed if House members like Kasich had gotten their way. Most, including Kasich, supported moves cutting taxes on corporations and high earners, legislation that Clinton vetoed. Those looking for such tax cuts would have to wait until the George W. Bush presidency, an era of big budget deficits, high unemployment and economic uncertainty. Despite this, Kasich still believes those kinds of tax cuts are the way to go and credits them with more economic benefits than history seems to show they deliver.

2. “Our wages are growing faster than the national average. We’re running surpluses. And we can take that message and that formula to Washington to lift every single American to a better life.”

And

“And now in Ohio, with the same formula, wages higher than the — than the national average. A growth of 385,000 jobs.”

Mostly false.

Kasich likes to tout Ohio’s economic record. But throughout much of his tenure, the state’s economic growth has lagged behind other states. In 2015, for instance, wages in all but three of Ohio’s 88 counties were below the national average of $1,048, and 63 of those counties had wages below $800 a week. While Columbus, the state capital, recently made news because wages there were growing faster than anywhere else in the country, that's a unique situation and many other places in Ohio are seeing stagnating wages.

Kasich also likes to tout his record of job growth. But Ohio lags behind other states in job creation, currently ranking 31st out of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., and has been near the middle or below it for most of Kasich’s tenure. If Ohio has job growth, it's because the economy is trending better across the country. Some studies show that the state has yet to replace all the jobs it lost in the Great Recession and that wages still haven't recovered.

Finally, while the state is running surpluses, Kasich has been aided by that same national economic wind at his back and hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money given to the state for its Medicaid expansion, education, transportation and other expenditures the state would have otherwise had to make. Kasich’s plan for the country? Cut deeply into those federal funds.

3. “I served on the Defense Committee for 18 years, and, by the way, one of the members of that committee was Senator Strom Thurmond from South Carolina.”

True, but there’s something you should know.

This calls less for a fact check than a needed historical note. Kasich did indeed serve on the House Defense Committee and worked with Sen. Strom Thurmond. He mentions this to play to the hometown crowd in North Charleston, South Carolina, but in doing so, he associates himself with a very troubling character. Thurmond, who also served as governor in South Carolina, was one of the loudest opponents of integration in the South in the 1950s and 1960s. Thurmond delivered a record-breaking filibuster against Civil Rights legislation in 1957, though he maintained throughout his long career that he wasn’t racist and simply opposed federal control of state affairs. Despite those assertions, he was known to make racially charged statements, including these remarks during a 1948 run for president:

“On the question of social intermingling of the races, our people draw the line,” he said during a campaign speech. “The laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, into our schools, our churches and our places of recreation and amusement.''

4. “In terms of Saudi Arabia, look, my biggest problem with them is they’re funding radical clerics through their madrasses.”

This one is complicated. Kasich is fairly nuanced in his wording here, using the term “radical clerics” instead of simply saying Saudi Arabia is training terrorists or something more alarmist.

As a sovereign state, Saudi Arabia is officially opposed to ISIS and has jailed radical Islamists. But many have pointed out the Islamic theocracy’s ideological similarities to the Islamic State, citing the fact that the country is a place of origin for the Wahhabi belief system. Wahhabism is a sect of Islam that calls for very strict adherence to restrictive, fundamental interpretations of the Koran similar to ISIS. Wahhabism is taught in some Saudi schools, or Maddrasas. Some ISIS members are Wahhabi but not all Wahhabi are ISIS supporters.

Experts have mixed views on the role Saudis play in funding and encouraging ISIS, and there’s little consensus on how to approach America’s uneasy ally about its links to radical Islam.

5. “I’ve been for pausing on admitting the Syrian refugees. And the reasons why I’ve done is I don’t believe we have a good process of being able to vet them.”

The process is more exhaustive and effective than it is often portrayed to be.

Though Kasich's main point in this part of the debate was that we should seek moderation and bridge-building with allies in the Arab world, his assertion that there isn’t a good vetting process already in place for Syrian refugees isn’t accurate. The U.S. Department of State undertakes a process that lasts 18 months or longer to vet refugees. That process includes extensive background checks and admits mostly women and children anyway — not the young male conservatives like Kasich say are most likely to be radicalized terrorists streaming into the country.

6. “I believe in the PTT…”

A minor note, maybe a slip of the tongue, but it’s actually the TPP, or the Trans Pacific Partnership. It governs trade agreements between countries around the Pacific with a stated objective of working toward increasing American exports.

7. “Well, I created a task force well over a year ago and the purpose was to bring law enforcement, community people, clergy and the person that I named as one of the co-chair was a lady by the name of Nina Turner, a former State Senator, a liberal Democrat. She actually ran against one of my friends and our head of public safety.”

Mostly true, but there’s more.

It’s true that Kasich created a statewide task force made up of bipartisan lawmakers and community leaders and that the task force has made recommendations about ways to make incremental reform the justice system in Ohio. Those reforms include statewide use of force protocols for officers and increases in officer training.

The question is whether that’s a credit to Kasich that makes him a more appealing presidential choice or whether it was simply the very least he could do.

Many of those reforms recommended by the task force have yet to be implemented, and it’s unclear when they will be. Some of them also build on steps taken years before Kasich was governor, including Cincinnati’s collaborative agreement in the wake of its 2001 unrest. More, some activists would say the panel is weak for someone as powerful as Kasich, whose administration hasn’t stepped into controversial county grand jury cases like the one around the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.

Rice was shot in Cleveland while playing with a toy gun on a playground. Appeals were made to take that case out of the hands of Cuyahoga County Prosecutors, who work closely with the Cleveland Police Department. CPD has been heavily criticized by the Department of Justice for excessive use of force in the past, though it has not been held accountable by the prosecutor's office for those actions. Despite that, no action was taken by state officials in the Rice case. A grand jury decided not to indict officers in the boy’s death. Finally, the Kasich administration has done little to address the economic and social root causes of justice system inequalities, including pervasive poverty in black communities. Indeed, those communities lag far behind the Kasich's boasts bout job and wage gains.

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