The Billionaire Businessman Behind the Grove and the Americana at Brand Joins Kasich Campaign

Rick Caruso thinks John Kasich is moderate enough to appeal to the blue state of California

Rick Caruso, founder and CEO of Caruso Affiliated, whose retail properties include the Grove and the Americana at Brand, is formally joining John Kasich’s campaign for president. “There is a group that has been put together to advise him from time to time, and I’m part of that group,” says Caruso, who will serve as Kasich for America’s National Finance and California State Co-Chair. “I’ll certainly help him raise money, but my job is not to be dialing for dollars. It’s to be more strategic. He’s done a very good job showing his compassionate side. Now I think his campaign needs to get the message out more about his strength.”

Caruso, an independent who has voted with both Democrats and Republicans in the past, registered with the Republican party so he could vote in the California primary on June 7. “I’ve never let a party decide which direction that I go,” says Caruso. “I’ll probably switch back to independent after I’m done, but I’ll make that decision down the road.”

We chatted with Caruso briefly via phone about his reasons for supporting John Kasich, and what exactly he doesn’t like about G.O.P. front-runners Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.

Do you worry that supporting any one candidate could alienate consumers and other visitors to your properties who don’t share your affiliation?
I do. But I also think all of us need to take positions, and as long as positions are well thought-out, people respect that. I didn’t get involved in this campaign earlier because of the way it was being conducted. But supporting John Kasich is supporting somebody that actually knows how to conduct himself in public and hasn’t taken [the race] into the toilet like Cruz and Trump.

California is a blue state. What do you think you can do for Kasich here?
The good news is that for the first time in many, many election cycles California votes actually count. They will matter, especially on the Republican side. A guy like John Kasich—he’s strong on national security, he’s strong on the business side, but he’s also much more moderate and balanced in terms of personal issues, which plays very well in California, particularly in Los Angeles where [people] don’t want someone way to the right.

But Kasich is anti-abortion. With at least one Supreme Court seat in the balance, isn’t there a chance he could roll back reproductive rights?
I don’t think so. That decision is so decided. Nobody is going to go do that. There are much more important things to be focused on than trying to change Roe v. Wade.

What issues are really important to you?
What is important to me in this race is finding somebody that can actually conduct themselves in a thoughtful, mature way that represents the best values of this country. And then on top of the list is national security. You can’t have somebody, a nominee or a president, that has no experience in dealing with that. And then the economy. We’ve got to continue to grow this economy and have more people get jobs and we’ve got to build up the middle class.

If Kasich fails to secure the nomination, will you vote for Cruz or Trump?
I’ll make that decision then about Cruz. I’m sure he is a very smart guy, but he has spent his career being a legislator, and that’s not governing. But under no circumstances could I see myself supporting Trump. To put him in charge of my future—I couldn’t think of anything more horrifying. I don’t think he’s educated himself on the issues that are important to this country. I think he’s made a fool of himself, and I think he’s incited people to be violent in their tone and their actions. I wouldn’t allow my children to conduct themselves like Donald Trump.