Ohio Governor John Kasich is taking criticism for a joke he made during an event Monday at the University of Richmond in support of his sagging campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. The student on the receiving end says that not only was Kasich’s remark insulting politically, it also was off-base culturally.
“I’m sorry, I don’t have any tickets for Taylor Swift,” Kasich said in response to the raised hand of Kayla Solsbak, an 18-year-old sophomore who was trying to ask a question about immigration policy.
Kasich, whose remarks were first reported by the University of Richmond Collegian, also appeared to start invoking the band Linkin Park, but cut himself off to allow Solsbak to ask him about his approach toward undocumented immigrants.
“You need to make sure we have a border,” Kasich said.
It wasn’t Kasich’s immigration policy that irked Solsbak, though. The San Diego native is also a Collegian staff writer, and penned a response to the governor’s attempt to shake her off with an awkward music reference, criticizing Kasich for “belittling me and my peers” in a room otherwise full of middle-aged and senior-citizen Republican voters.
And Kaisch also got it wrong in typecasting Solsbak as a presumed Swiftian. “I’m not a Taylor Swift fan,” Solsback tells Washingtonian in an email.
Kasich has the support of 3.2 Republican primary voters in a Real Clear Politics average of national polls, good for seventh place in a 15-candidate field and far outside the top tier of Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina. While Republicans struggle to connect with young voters generally, Kasich seems to suffer that problem specifically in making strained pop-culture references to a room that did not appear to react to them.
Solsbak concedes she attended Kasich’s forum as a curious first-time voter, not a reporter for the Collegian, and Kasich’s campaign disputes her account of the exchange. Spokesman Rob Nichols referred Washingtonian to another Collegian opinion piece written by a conservative student—”but who is no John Kasich fan,” Nichols says—saying Kasich’s joke was appropriate “because the level of excitement being exuded by [Solsbak] was that of a teen Taylor Swift fan trying to get tickets to a concert.”
While the tone of exchange is disputed, one thing is clear: while college students may disagree about Taylor Swift, they love hot takes. And perhaps if the 63-year-old Kasich had switched his cultural references to his own generation’s icons, he might have surprised voters of all ages, including Solsbak’s.
“I’m a Simon and Garfunkel fanatic,” she says.