John Kasich's Comments On LGBT Discrimination Make His Priorities Distressingly Clear

Ohio governor and Republican presidential John Kasich just stepped in it. That's probably the best way to describe what transpired in an interview with CNN's Dana Bash on Sunday, when the third-place candidate in the GOP field was asked whether he'd take any steps to prevent the sorts of discrimination-enabling religious freedom laws that have taken hold in North Carolina and Mississippi in recent weeks. His reply, especially as the ostensible moderate on the Republican side, left a lot to be desired — does John Kasich want LGBT Americans to "just get over" discriminatory policies?

The answer seems to be yes, although there's a bit of essential context included. When Bash asked Kasich, "Are there any steps that you would take to try to stop states from passing these laws," Kasich's reply was "No, I wouldn't ... I haven't even been asked that or thought about that, but here's what I think." And then, he unleashed this scorching hot take on Bash, and everyone watching at home.

There is a legitimate concern for people being able to have their deeply held religious beliefs, religious liberty. But there's also people who we shouldn't be discriminating against. We need to have a balance ... we need to strike a balance. And I just wish that everybody would just take a breath, and calm down, because you see, trying to figure out how to legislate that balance is complicated and you keep doing do-overs, cause nobody gets it right.
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So if we would just kinda calm down here, I think things would settle down. And what I like to say is, just relax, if you don't like what somebody's doing pray for them, and if you feel as though somebody is doing something wrong against you, can you just for a second get over it? You know, cause this thing will settle down.

Now, something to keep in mind: What Kasich said could be read both as telling the critics of anti-LGBT laws like Mississippi's HB 1523 and supporters of those laws to "get over it," and that difference in interpretation is apparent in the reaction from some conservatives, too. That said, the construction of his remarks is highly suggestive — he first says to pray for someone if you "don't like" what they're doing, a fairly clear reference to Americans who hold anti-gay views rooted in religion. And then, on the other side, if you're the person having something done to them: "Can you for a second just get over it?"

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In short, it's a distressing answer from the GOP candidate who's meant to be the warmhearted moderate, though this has always been more a matter of contrast and public relations than a reality. While Kasich is far more centrist than presidential rival Ted Cruz, and far less erratic than frontrunner Donald Trump, he's actually been every bit the conservative governor you'd expect.

And frankly, his ho-hum, shucks-can-ya-believe-this, friendly old statesman routine doesn't hold up so well when you hear him say something like this. In the first place, the spread of discrimination-enabling religious freedom laws throughout Republican-controlled states isn't some new or obscure issue — it's firmly on the front-burner right now. Whether or not Kasich was telling the truth when he said he hadn't really thought about it, that's a bad sign. And telling the discriminating group "Hey, just pray," while telling the group discriminated against to "get over it?" It all makes it pretty clear which side he really sympathizes with, and whose interests he'd be more likely to prioritize if he were in office.

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This isn't the first time Kasich has tried to have it both ways on LGBT issues. During the first Republican presidential debate in August 2015, he argued that he could respect and love gay Americans while still opposing same-sex marriage, a position of gritted-teeth tolerance which earned him some unusually warm receptions from the political left.

It seems like a safe bet that this won't be received quite so well — with gay and lesbian Americans still targets of discrimination after decades of activism, and transgender Americans still living with staggeringly high rates of suicide and threats of violence, this rhetorical halfway point rings incredibly false. And it's not as though he won any support from his right-wing brethren — plenty of them already considered him a squishy, left-leaning RINO (Republican in name only), and his answer to Bash only worsened that. Basically, he managed to alienate everyone in just one answer. Neat trick, huh?