Erick Trickey will be in Cleveland all week covering the Republican National Convention for Cincinnati Magazine. This is his third post. Read the others here.
Gov. John Kasich says he won’t attend the Republican National Convention this week, but more than 1,800 Republicans trekked across Cleveland’s downtown yesterday to see him.
Four hours before Republicans nominated Donald Trump for president at their convention, party members jammed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to see the Ohio governor and vanquished candidate. It was part of Kasich’s tour of downtown Cleveland, a series of appearances in which he implicitly criticized Trump without ever naming him.
The rift between Kasich and Trump is growing this convention week, not shrinking. Monday night, Trump lashed out at Kasich for avoiding the RNC, while Kasich suggested he was unlikely to ever support Trump.
At the Rock Hall yesterday afternoon, Kasich and his wife Janet ascended the giant escalator from its basement to its second floor. Reporters on Twitter quickly compared Kasich’s entrance to Trump’s famed campaign announcement last year, when he descended an escalator at Trump Tower. Up, not down—get it?
Onstage, Kasich thanked supporters of his presidential campaign, while describing it in ways that reminded them of his differences with Trump. “When I traveled around the country, I had a message,” Kasich said. “The message was unity and lifting people.”
That wasn’t just rhetoric, Kasich insisted. “There is no way I would have ever entered a race for president just to win an election,” he said—perhaps a swipe at Trump’s penchant for bragging about his victories. “The reason you get into politics is you want to bring about profound change. The things you want to do have to come from your soul.”
Some conservatives have blasted Kasich for not endorsing Trump, pointing out that he vowed, while running for president, to support the eventual GOP nominee. But Kasich’s Rock Hall speech yesterday hinted that he’s sticking to a different set of principles. “We hear a lot about negative, polarization, division,” he said, echoing contrasts he drew during his campaign. “Believe that you can change the world. Believe that standing on principle, ethics and integrity can be a huge deal.”
At other Cleveland appearances, Kasich edged ever closer to directly criticizing Trump. He criticized “growing nationalism, growing isolationism, anti-immigration, and anti-trade” sentiments at a speech before the International Republican Institute—an implicit critique of Trump’s foreign policy. At the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, he implied Trump was leading the GOP backward. “I think when this election is over, those of us who are Republicans are going to have to sit down and think about what our party is going to be in the 21st century,” he said.
This week’s Trump-Kasich sniping began when Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, criticized Kasich in several speeches and interviews Monday for planning to skip the RNC. “He’s embarrassing his state,” Manafort told reporters at a breakfast. He also accused Kasich of angling to win the presidency in 2020 by shunning Trump this year.
On the convention floor Monday afternoon, I asked Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine about Manafort’s “embarrassing” comment.
“That’s very unfortunate,” DeWine said. “I’m going to be for Trump. I don’t want Hillary Clinton to win. I know the type of judges Hillary Clinton would appoint. But, I think what Mr. Trump has to do is start pulling people together.”
I asked DeWine if he supported Kasich’s decision not to attend the RNC. “I support whatever Gov. Kasich wants to do,” he said.
Trump supporters would argue that it’s up to Kasich to get behind the GOP nominee, and that Trump has asked for Kasich’s help and been rebuffed. But DeWine, who campaigned for Kasich in New Hampshire this year, put the onus on Trump to improve the relationship. “He knows how to reach out to people,” DeWine said.
Kasich, on NBC News Monday, said it’s unlikely he’d accept an overture from Trump. “He’d have to change everything that he says,” Kasich said. “We can’t be attacking Muslims and Hispanics and trying to shut down trade and not caring about the debt. Those are all problems for me.”
Hours later, Trump struck back. Calling into Fox News Monday night, he reminded viewers he’d beaten Kasich for the presidential nomination. “If I were him and gotten beaten that badly, I probably wouldn’t show up either,” Trump said.
Yesterday, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, who has endorsed Trump, told reporters that Trump should lay off Kasich and pull the party together. Asked if the two men would make peace, Portman said, “I suspect you’ll see that.”
Maybe. But that sounds very optimistic considering how this week has gone.
For now, Kasich’s refusal to reach an accord with Trump stands as one of the top signs of disunity at the RNC—at least as significant as Monday’s delegate revolt. And the RNC’s pro-Trump and pro-unity delegates know it. During last night’s roll call of the states, Ohio’s 66 votes for Kasich were greeted with scattered boos and a chant from the Pennsylvania delegation: “Where is he?”
Erick Trickey is a Cincinnati Magazine contributor, and has written for POLITICO, Smithsonian Magazine, Boston Magazine, and Cleveland Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @ErickTrickey.