Ohio Gov. John Kasich has been on the outside looking in this week at the Republican National Convention, skipping the convention floor, refusing to endorse the party’s nominee, Donald Trump, and making guerrilla-like appearances across the state.
But Kasich hasn’t been absent from this convention. He is very much on the minds of many of the delegates here — particularly those from Ohio — and some believe fences will have to be mended between him and Trump if Republicans hope to win the critical state in November.
U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy, the newest member of the Ohio congressional delegation, warned that Trump needs to repair his relationship with Kasich or be prepared to face the loss of Ohio and the state’s 18 electoral votes.
“I don’t know who needs to bury the hatchet. I really think probably Donald Trump,” Davidson said.
Kasich shows no signs of hopping on the Trump train, or even paying much attention to him.
In the past two days, Kasich spoke at the NAACP national convention in Cincinnati, met with other state delegations and gave a speech to the International Republican Institute, a group of foreign policy-minded party stalwarts.
On Tuesday, he spoke to thousands of supporters at the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame as a cover band played The Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” and his wife Karen took the stage with him.
His 10-minute speech was vintage Kasich, full of references to self-improvement and a shared purpose.
“You don’t have to apply for sainthood. Just do the very best you can to make a difference,” he said. “If we can make a difference in the lives of the people and give them hope, and give them the sense that together we can change this whole darned world, we can be the very best.”
Just a year ago, Kasich launched his presidential campaign with words just like these. But Trump’s unconventional campaign tapped into the American electorate’s discontent with career politicians. Trump beat out well-established politicos with long resumes to capture the Republican nomination.
Kasich’s refusal to endorse Trump and decision to avoid the convention floor drew a sharp rebuke from Trump campaign advisor Paul Manafort this week, who said Kasich was embarrassing the state. Others didn’t see it that way.
In an interview with Cleveland WKYC’s Maureen Kyle, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Trump supporter, said he respected Kasich’s decision.
“I have great personal affection for Governor Kasich,” Christie said. “He’s been a friend of mine for a long time. I was out here campaigning for him in 2010 and 2014. John is a person who makes his own judgments. He has the right to make his own judgments. Those are his calls. He’s the governor of this state and a good friend, so it’s totally up to John.”
Kasich has said he won’t endorse Trump unless the New York billionaire dramatically changes his ways and his message.
At the International Republican Institute, Kasich declared himself in opposition to everything Trump stands for in the realm of international relations, though he never mentioned Trump’s name.
“I see growing nationalism. There’s nothing wrong with nationalism until it becomes extreme,” he said. “We all love our countries. But you know, we know what growing nationalism to an extreme amount can mean.
“Secondly, there is an increasing tide of isolationism. Let’s just take care of us. Let’s just pull the shades down, lock the doors, and let’s just forget the rest of the world. We’ll just take care of ourselves.
“Thirdly, there is a growing pattern, as we all know, of anti-immigration. Everybody in this room would agree you need to have proper immigration. But when I look at immigration, I look at a new level of energy. I look at immigration as an opportunity. One of the things we face in Ohio is a stagnant growth of population. We want people to come to Ohio. We want to integrate these folks. We want them to become part of our economic dynamo.”
The message runs counter to what was being said inside the convention hall — and by Trump all through the campaign.
Kasich’s moves are fueling speculation that he wants to run for president in 2020, should Trump lose to Democrat Hillary Clinton this fall. Kasich, 64, is barred from seeking a third term as governor.
“He has a very bright future if he chooses to get back into the fray,” said U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a fellow Republican. “I think he’ll do well. He didn’t win the primaries, obviously, but I think he came out of it with his head held high and a lot of respect.”
Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, added: “He has been a great governor. He has done great things for our state. We’re really proud of him and I think he has a great future ahead of him.”
John Weaver, policy consultant for Kasich’s 2016 presidential campaign, said Kasich is working on party unity at the convention and plans to “campaign exhaustively” in the fall for congressional candidates.
“I think there are going to be incredible headwinds against some of our candidates and John Kasich is going to be standing with them to help them get re-elected or elected, whatever the case may be,” Weaver said. “As far as his future, he is going to be governor for another two-and-a-half years. He has got a very aggressive agenda to continue pro-growth, inclusive, positive policies here. That is why he has a 60 percent approval rating among all Ohio voters and an 80 percent among Republicans.”
But Weaver made clear that what is happening inside Quicken Loans Arena doesn’t really concern Kasich.
“This is Trump’s convention and we’re doing what we’re doing,” he said. “I don’t think we’re in the way of it at all.”
Staff writers Jim Galloway, Greg Bluestein and Chris Stewart contributed to this report.
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