MEGYN KELLY: Governor Kasich, You chose to expand Medicaid in your state, unlike several other governors on this stage tonight, and it is already over budget by some estimates costing taxpayers an additional $1.4 billion in just the first 18 months. You defended your Medicaid expansion by invoking God, saying to skeptics that when they arrive in heaven, Saint Peter isn’t going to ask them how small they’ve kept government, but what they have done for the poor. Why should Republican voters, who generally want to shrink government, believe that you won’t use your Saint Peter rationale to expand every government program?
JOHN KASICH: Well, first of all, Megyn, you should know that — that President Reagan expanded Medicaid three or four times. Secondly, I had an opportunity to bring resources back to Ohio to do what? To treat the mentally ill. Ten thousand of them sit in our prisons. It costs $22,500 a year to keep them in prison. I’d rather get them their medication so they could lead a decent life. Secondly, we are rehabbing the drug-addicted. Eighty percent of the people in our prisons have addictions or problems. We now treat them in the prisons, release them in the community and the recidivism rate is 10 percent and everybody across this country knows that the tsunami of drugs is — is threatening their very families.
So we’re treating them and getting them on their feet. And, finally, the working poor, instead of them having come into the emergency rooms where it costs more, where they’re sicker and we end up paying, we brought a program in here to make sure that people could get on their feet. And do you know what? Everybody has a right to their God-given purpose. And finally, our Medicaid is growing at one of the lowest rates in the country. And, finally, we went from $8 billion in the hole to $2 billion in the black. We’ve cut $5 billion in taxes…
KASICH: — and we’ve grown 350,000 jobs.
WALLACE: Governor Kasich, I know you don’t like to talk about Donald Trump. But I do want to ask you about the merit of what he just said. When you say that the American government is stupid, that the Mexican government is sending criminals, that we’re being bamboozled, is that an adequate response to the question of illegal immigration?
KASICH: Chris, first of all, I was just saying to Chris Christie, they say we’re outspoken, we need to take lessons from Donald Trump if we’re really going to learn it. Here is the thing about Donald Trump. Donald Trump is hitting a nerve in this country. He is. He’s hitting a nerve. People are frustrated. They’re fed up. They don’t think the government is working for them. And for people who want to just tune him out, they’re making a mistake.
Now, he’s got his solutions. Some of us have other solutions. You know, look, I balanced the federal budget as one of the chief architects when I was in Washington. Hasn’t been done since. I was a military reformer. I took the state of Ohio from an $8 billion hole and a 350,000 job loss to a $2 billion surplus and a gain of 350,000 jobs.
WALLACE: Respectfully, can we talk about illegal immigration?
KASICH: But the point is that we all have solutions. Mr. Trump is touching a nerve because people want the wall to be built. They want to see an end to illegal immigration. They want to see it, and we all do. But we all have different ways of getting there. And you’re going to hear from all of us tonight about what our ideas are.
WALLACE: Gentlemen, we’re obviously digging into some subjects in depth, but we’re also going to change it up every once in a while throughout the next hour and have many rounds where we ask, you are not going to like it, only a couple of candidates questions on those subjects. This is the first of the many rounds, and it’s about somebody whose name probably hasn’t been mentioned enough so far tonight.
Governor Kasich, let me start with you. Whoever the Republican nominee is, it looks at least for now like whoever that nominee is, he or she, will be facing off against Hillary Clinton. You know how she will come after whoever the Republican nominee is. She will say that you, whoever it is, support the rich while she supports the middle class. That you want to suppress the rights of women and minorities. She wants to move the country forward while you, the Republicans, want to take the country back to the past. How will you, if you’re the nominee, how will you answer that and take Hillary Clinton on?
KASICH: Let’s start off with my father being a mailman. So I understand the concerns of all the folks across this country, some of whom having trouble, you know, making ends meet. But I think she will come in a narrow way. The nominee of this party, if they’re going to win, has got to come at it in a big way, which is pro-growth. Which is balancing budgets. You know, we were talking about it. People were saying, could we do it? I was the chairman of the Budget Committee and the lead architect the last time it happened in Washington, and when we did it we had great economic growth, we cut taxes, and we had a big surplus.
Economic growth is the key. Economic growth is the key to everything. But once you have economic growth, it is important that we reach out to people who live in the shadows, the people who don’t seem to ever think that they get a fair deal. And that includes people in our minority community; that includes people who feel as though they don’t have a chance to move up.
You know, America is a miracle country. And we have to restore the sense that the Amiracle (ph) will apply to you. Each and every one of the people in this country who’s watching tonight, lift everybody, unite everybody and build a stronger United States of America again. It will be and can be done.
KELLY: The subject of gay marriage and religious liberty. Governor Kasich, if you had a son or daughter who was gay or lesbian, how would you explain to them your opposition to same-sex marriage?
KASICH: Well, look, I’m an old-fashioned person here, and I happen to believe in traditional marriage. But I’ve also said the court has ruled —
KELLY: How would you — how would you explain it to a child?
KASICH: Wait, Megyn, the court has ruled, and I said we’ll accept it. And guess what, I just went to a wedding of a friend of mine who happens to be gay. Because somebody doesn’t think the way I do, doesn’t mean that I can’t care about them or can’t love them. So if one of my daughters happened to be that, of course I would love them and I would accept them. Because you know what?
KASICH: That’s what we’re taught when we have strong faith. So the issues like that, issues like that are planted to divide us. I think the simple fact of the matter is, and this is where I would agree with Jeb, and I’ve been saying it all along, we need to give everybody a chance, treat everybody with respect, and let them share in this great American dream that we have, Megyn. So, look, I’m going to love my daughters, I’m going to love them no matter what they do. Because, you know what, God gives me unconditional love. I’m going to give it to my family and my friends and the people around me.
KELLY: Governor Kasich, same question. [about God]
KASICH: Well, Megyn, my father was a mailman. His father was a coal miner. My mother’s mother could barely speak English. And their son today stands on this podium in the great state of Ohio not only as the governor, but a candidate for president of the United States.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
KASICH: I do believe in miracles. You know, I’ve had a lot of elections. But my elections are really not about campaigns. I tell my people that these are about a movement. And a movement to do what? To restore common sense. A movement to do things like provide economic growth. And a movement not to let anybody be behind.
You know, today the country is divided. You asked a question about the police and the difficulty in communities. We’ve got to unite our country again, because we’re stronger when we are united and we are weaker when we are divided.
And we’ve got to listen to other people’s voices, respect them, but keep in mind, and I believe in terms of the things that I’ve read in my lifetime, the lord is not picking us. But because of how we respect human rights, because that we are a good force in the world, he wants America to be strong.
He wants America to succeed. And he wants America to lead. And nothing is more important to me than my family, my faith, and my friends.
BAIER: Now each candidate will make a closing statement. You’ll all have 30 seconds to make a closing statement for this debate. We’ll start with Ohio Governor John Kasich.
KASICH: You know, tonight we hear about what people want to do. I want to tell you what I’ve done. I was a member of the Armed Services Committee for 18 years. I spent a big chunk of my life studying national security issues and our role in the world.
No. 2. I was the chairman of the House Budget Committee and one of the chief architects the last time we balanced a budget, and it was the first time we had done it since man walked on the moon. We had a $5 trillion surplus and we cut taxes.
I spent ten years in the private sector, actually learning how business works. And now I’m the governor of Ohio, and I inherited a state that was on the brink of dying. And we turned it all around with jobs and balanced budgets and rising credit and tax cuts, and the state is unified, and people have hope again in Ohio.