John Kasich: Tea-Partiest Republican Ever?

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Former Congressman John Kasich (R-OH) is raising the bar for Republicans trying to latch onto the Tea Party movement this year. Kasich, now running for governor of Ohio in a dead heat with incumbent Ted Strickland (D), told a crowd yesterday he was a tea partier before it was cool.

In exclusive audio obtained by TPMDC and posted below, Kasich gives some insight into why he’s so willing to embrace the tenets of the tea party movement. In two separate speeches last year, he warned his fellow Republicans that the tea partiers were serious about changing the Republican party. So serious, he warned twice, that tea partiers would “hang” Republicans “from the nearest tree” if they don’t get their way.

A lot of Republican candidates are trying to find alliances among the various tea party movements this year. The attempt at wooing the insurgent conservative movement usually goes like this: The tea partiers challenge candidates about why they didn’t vote for a spending bill, social program, or revenue plan way back when, despite claiming to be part of their movement.

Kasich may be the first mainstream Republican candidate for whom the conversation is reversed. Faced with his skill at sounding like the most extreme of the tea partiers, it may be mainline Republicans in Ohio who find themselves wondering if Kasich’s really one of them.

Speaking on a Columbus radio show last October, Kasich described the tea party crowds packing town halls last year. “I went to one meeting where I thought they were gonna hang two of the Republican speakers that were up there from the nearest tree,” he said. Here’s the audio:

A few weeks earlier, according to sources who provided TPMDC with the audio, Kasich told donors at a fundraiser a similar story.

“I go to tea party events and I know where people are, they’re fed up with all the politics,” he said. “I’ve told my Republican colleagues at big Republican shindigs, if you think they like you, you’re crazy.”

“They’re willing to give you one more chance, maybe,” Kasich added. “And if you flub that one I suggest you not go to anymore tea parties, because there are a lot of trees around they can hang you from.” Audio below:

Kasich’s probably safe from the noose himself, having had a career that should already put him in the tea partiers good graces. In Congress, he was known as one of the GOP’s toughest fiscal hawks. Human Events recently called Kasich’s tenure as a Representative “the embodiment of a small government-low tax conservative.” Kasich’s additional tea party bona fides come from his time with Fox News, where hosted a show called “Heartland” and frequently filled in as a guest host for Bill O’Reilly.

Kasich has put his fiscal policy where his mouth is in the governor’s race, where offering a plan to eliminate Ohio’s state income tax. In short, in many ways, he’s tried to be exactly the kind of Republican tea partiers are looking for, as he said at the rally yesterday.

“I think I was in the Tea Party before there was a Tea Party,” he told a crowd in Columbus.

Kasich’s campaign did not respond to an email this morning.

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