By now you likely know that Ohio Governor John Kasich is not attending the Republican National Convention in his home state of Ohio this week. Instead, he’s attending events near the convention, including one for the National Republican Congressional Committee held at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens. Early Monday, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s de facto campaign manager, came out swinging at the former presidential contender, saying he was “embarrassing his party in Ohio” by refusing to endorse Trump and by skipping out on the convention. Kasich spokesman Chris Schrimpf said only that Kasich was “taking the high road.”
Trump, on the eve of his big debut in Cleveland, alas, could not take the high road. He called in to Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News lambasting Kasich, yapping about how he “beat John Kasich very, very soundly” in Ohio and doubling down on Manafort’s comments about what an embarrassment he was to his state. “If I got beaten that badly, I wouldn’t show up either,” he added. To those of you who have been saying that Trump will suddenly pivot and become “presidential” once he is the nominee, all I can say is…you’ve got two more days.
Plenty of people agreed with Manafort and Trump’s rhetoric, with many reminding Kasich of the pledge he’d made to support the eventual nominee:
— Trump Pence 2016 (@UnitewithTrump) July 19, 2016
attack dog strategist John Weaver (no class act himself) went on a Trump-like Twitter rant to defend his boss:
— John Weaver (@JWGOP) July 19, 2016
If you can’t run ONE day of a convention, how can you form & run a government? #ThisisntUkraine
— John Weaver (@JWGOP) July 19, 2016
Weaver also retweeted this gem:
So what does all of this mean for the important swing state of Ohio in an election year? Next page: What could Kasich have up his sleeve? First, some of this has to do with getting Rob Portman re-elected to his Senate seat in the fall. Though Portman has endorsed Trump and has been hanging out in and around the convention doing his own (mostly charitable) events, Ohio’s only Republican senator will not have a speaking role during the convention. He needs to be careful with his support for Trump in a state that is not wildly enthusiastic about the soon-to-be nominee because whether some want to admit it or not, Trump is toxic in many circles. I wrote not too long ago about a GOP Lincoln Day Dinner I attended where no one —not even Karl Rove —mentioned Trump’s name, not even once. The Real Clear average has Portman up 2.7 points over his opponent, former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, who is doing his best to tie Portman to Trump. Portman can’t afford to alienate anyone right now. He burned the state’s social conservatives by coming out in favor of gay marriage a while back and lost of lot of political capital in the process. It‘s possible that Kasich, trying to help Ohio, is doing what he thinks is best to try and keep that Senate seat in Republican hands, along with a lot of other down-ticket seats that may be in jeopardy this fall. But I also think it’s more than that.
The end of Kasich’s term is looming on the horizon, so he’s certainly thinking about what he’ll be doing next. Obviously, his presidential campaign crashed and burned, but he’s a man who seems to have a desperate need to controls the levers of government. He believes in his heart of hearts that if he were in charge, he could right this ship and make America great again (to borrow a phrase). So I don’t think we’ll see the last of him when he hands the keys to the governor’s mansion over to his successor. Sure, he could have lucrative career as a lobbyist (those are his people, after all), but that’s not the kind of power that affects the systemic change he wants to see in this nation. With the presidency lost to him (and term-limited as governor), he may set his sites on a career as a senator. I’ve suspected for a while now that Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown could be Hillary Clinton’s choice as running mate. Brown has been traveling around the country with Clinton and would actually be the perfect choice for her — blue collar as they come (in that annoying elitist way that libs feign being blue collar) with a wife who matches Hillary’s radical feminist cred. He’s an extremely popular senator in Ohio and could help turn out the state for her. But here’s where it gets interesting. If Hillary were to win the presidency, Governor Kasich would get to appoint the replacement to fill Brown’s senate seat. Could he appoint himself? I’m not sure if that’s even possible, but I wouldn’t put it past him to be investigating the possibility. (Whether the Democrats would gamble a safe Senate seat to win Ohio for Hillary remains to be seen. It would be an act of desperation, to be sure.) But even if things don’t play out that way, Brown’s seat comes up for re-election in 2018. Kasich still has enough good will in Ohio (and the campaign operation) to pick off an incumbent senator. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s one of the reasons he’s avoiding jumping on the Trump Train this week.