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John Kasich embraces endorsement from once-‘toxic’ Brian Sandoval

Honestly, this isn’t nearly as bad as the time five years ago when Gov. Brian Sandoval endorsed former Texas Gov. Rick Perry for president.

In fact, there are at least three reasons Sandoval’s backing on Saturday of Ohio Gov. John Kasich shouldn’t be ranked with the Perry debacle: They are Donald Trump, Ted Cruz … and I forget what the third one is.

I kid. I kid the governor. It’s fairly easy to do, especially since Sandoval makes so few mistakes in his public life.

And really, who was Sandoval going to endorse? Cruz? A surrogate for his campaign called Sandoval “a piece of toxic waste” whose endorsement “would be the kiss of death for any conservative.” Trump? Trump has said Mexican immigrants are rapists and drug dealers and we need a really big, beautiful wall to keep them out. Did I mention that Sandoval’s forebears are from Mexico?

So, it’s down to Kasich, although frankly, Sandoval may have more in common with Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton than with the Ohio governor.

Think about it: Sandoval just signed the largest tax increase in state history — including a brand-new commerce tax on business — in order to fund critical education programs in the public schools. Kasich has made big cuts to public schools, and charter schools in Ohio have been plagued by misspending and testing scandals under his administration.

Sandoval established a state-based health-insurance exchange and expanded Medicaid in Nevada. Kasich took the Medicaid dollars, but has vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act in the increasingly unlikely event that he ends up with a job at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue early next year.

Sandoval is pro-choice. Kasich has signed every bill to restrict abortion that’s ever reached his desk in Ohio, including one to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, a group that even Trump says helps women with health care.

Sandoval is a believer in renewable energy. Kasich isn’t sure if humans cause climate change — but even so, doesn’t want to stop drilling for oil and natural gas.

Oh, and Sandoval has been adamantly against the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project. Kasich is all for it, and said before his presidential run that he wouldn’t waver on that point.

So, clearly, Sandoval and Kasich have plenty to talk about.

But it’s worth asking: If Sandoval and Kasich are so different, why would Nevada’s governor back Ohio’s? And why now?

Some may think Sandoval, who has previously said he would support the GOP nominee, has tired of answering the Trump question. (By the way, Sandoval told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that “I’m not firm on that anymore.” An excellent answer, although it may have been better to have reached that conclusion from the start.) Others think it’s because Sandoval wants to secure a vice-presidential role if Kasich somehow manages to secure the nomination.

In fact, the endorsement might help Sandoval more than Kasich. In February, a Politico report quoted several people saying Sandoval’s embrace of taxes tainted him, notwithstanding his popularity and the reason for the increases. (Sandoval’s explanation — “It’s not conservative to have bad schools, to have overcrowded classrooms, or to be susceptible to another recession” — is as good a defense as anything yet uttered by tax supporters on the Nevada campaign trail.)

Still, Sandoval at one time was labeled an “ideological apostate” whose endorsement (at least in the primary) was seen as more of a headache than a helpmate.” Clearly, that’s changed — or maybe Long Shot Kasich has gotten desperate enough to take the risk of accepting Sandoval’s backing.

But given the relative records of both men and the respective state of their states, I wonder if perhaps things aren’t a bit backwards. Shouldn’t Sandoval be the candidate, mulling whether to accept Kasich’s backing?

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and co-host of the show “PoliticsNOW,” airing at 5:30 p.m. Sundays on 8NewsNow. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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