Donald Trump’s decision to publicly bash Gov. John Kasich not only jeopardizes party unity but risks alienating the Ohio GOP establishment in a state Trump will likely need to win in November, Ohio Republican Party leaders and delegates say.
On a night when Indiana Gov. Mike Pence accepted his party’s nomination for vice president, Ohio Republicans were still miffed about some of the comments the Trump team has made about their governor.
“If his campaign team keeps criticizing John Kasich, they’re going to lose for sure,” said Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges, who backed Kasich for president but has since tacitly pledged to support Trump.
Trump campaign consultant Paul Manafort this week said Kasich’s refusal to back Trump is “embarrassing his party in Ohio.”
Attacking Kasich, who defeated Trump in the Ohio primary and remains popular in the state, is a mistake, said Borges.
“People can recover from mistakes – even really stupid ones,” he said. “I have every confidence that they understand that what they did was wrong and factually inaccurate and we’ll move forward. No Republican has ever gotten to the White House without carrying Ohio. This won’t be the first time.”
Bob Paduchik, Trump’s Ohio state director, indicated that the campaign is already working to sidestep Kasich and Borges, if necessary. “We’ve reached out to many county chairs across Ohio and virtually all we’ve spoken with are excited and eager to help the Trump-Pence ticket win in November,” he said.
That could be a politically treacherous path, said University of Virginia political analyst Kyle Kondik. But Kondik said there are high stakes for both Trump and Kasich if the feud continues.
“Trump can’t win the presidency without Ohio. The Ohio Republican Party is effectively an extension of Kasich, who has no use for Trump,” he said. “However, I can see the potential for a peace here, because both sides need each other. Remember: The state Republicans desperately want to save Rob Portman’s Senate seat. Trump winning Ohio probably guarantees a Portman victory, and in modern elections presidential races drive turnout.
“So there’s some incentive for both sides to work together.”
VP slot offered?
The Trump-Kasich dust-up took a strange turn Wednesday when the New York Times reported that the Trump campaign made overtures to a senior Kasich aide in May, asking if the Ohio governor would be interested in being Trump’s vice president.
According to the report, Kasich would have a position of immense power, running both domestic and foreign policy in a Trump White House.
Cedarville University political scientist Mark Caleb Smith said it looked like the story was leaked to damage Trump.
“If it’s true, it’s incredibly embarrassing to Donald Trump,” Smith said. “It suggests that he really won’t be connected with the government itself.”
Trump tweeted Wednesday: “John Kasich was never asked by me to be V.P. Just arrived in Cleveland — will be a great two days!”
During the course of the GOP primaries, Trump lobbed withering criticism of Kasich via Twitter, calling him a total failure, pathetic, irrelevant and a “complete and total dud.” He even mocked Kasich’s eating style.
Trump blasted other opponents with personal insults but has since made peace with them, noted University of Dayton political scientist Christopher Devine.
“No matter how bad it gets with Donald Trump, as long as you reconcile it as some point, then it seems all is forgiven,” Devine said. “I mean, look at Ben Carson. Remember when they were going at each other. At the worst in the primaries, he compared him with a child molester. He went to great lengths to question Carson’s life story, parts of it. Now Trump publicly heaps praise on Carson, who has endorsed him.”
Although other formal rivals have fallen in line behind Trump — including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who Trump called “Lyin’ Ted” during the primaries — Kasich may stay on the sidelines, according to Devine.
“I think Kasich could hold out,” he said. “I could see him doing that.”
Collateral damage feared
One of the main purposes of a national political convention is to show party unity, but that isn’t a given at this point, according to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, whose wife Tina is a Republican delegate.
“There are a lot of people who excited about Donald Trump. There are others who didn’t want him to be the nominee and still are not willing to embrace him,” Husted said. “It’s a week where either that will come together – potentially as Donald Trump gets a chance to reintroduce himself to Ohioans and America. Or it could be a party divided as we leave Cleveland.”
A common fear among Republicans is that a divided party would not only cost them the presidency — Ohio has gone with the winner in each election since 1960 — but could also jeopardize other races, including the U.S. Senate seat now held by Portman, who is attending the convention but keeping a relatively low profile.
Portman said he expects the party to be unified after Trump formally accepts the GOP nomination today.
But, he said, “To me, it’s not just about unifying the Republican party – which I think is happening here in Cleveland and probably we’ll see that on the floor over the next couple of days. “We need to unify the country and I think that’s what the message ought to be.”
Staff writers Chris Stewart, Nick Blizzard, Lauren Clark, Jeremy Ratliff contributed to this report.
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