CLEVELAND — The final case of openly mutual contempt between Donald Trump and one of his Republican rivals, the stylistically opposite Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio, can now be fairly described as a clash of the escalators.
Last year Trump launched his improbable path to the party’s presidential nomination by riding down a moving staircase in the atrium of his iconic New York office tower, stagecraft symbolizing his unabashed descent into the art of the negative campaign.
And on Tuesday Kasich did the opposite, riding up an escalator through the atrium of his home state’s iconic Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, logistics instantly embraced by his campaign’s lingering fan base as evidence Kasich’s politics of positivity hasn’t changed.
The afternoon event, which drew a capacity crowd of about 2,000 campaign supporters from across the country to the museum, had all the trappings of a rally for a politician who has no plans to leave the national stage. It offered no sign whatsoever that Kasich has any interest in succumbing to the entreaties of some party leaders, not to mention many delegates to the Republican National Convention, that he make some measure of peace with the nascent nominee in the name of party unity.
Kasich spoke for seven minutes. He did not mention Trump’s name or even allude to the convention, entering its second day a mile down the road.
Instead, he offered a shorthand version of his stump speech — some familiar phrases about his personal and political philosophy now sounding like someone with 2016 in the rearview mirror and 2020 already in sight.
“I’m just a slob trying to get through the day and do the best I possibly can realizing I’ve got another chance tomorrow to maybe get it right,” he said.
“I’ve never been more satisfied,” both personally and professionally, he said. “I’m an optimist about America. We’re good people. Believe that you can stand and make a difference in the way the world spins, believe that standing on principle and having ethics and integrity can make a huge deal.”
His stand on principle has caused considerable contention in recent days, when he’s maintained it would be emblematic of a politician’s situational hypocrisy if he endorsed Trump in time for the convention after being so critical of him during the primaries.
The victor would “have to change everything that he says” in order for Kasich to speak at the convention, Kasich told NBC on Monday, and so he committed to spending the week totally clear of the Quicken Loans Area, where he ended up with 120 votes during the balloting that formally anointed Trump as the nominee Tuesday evening.
He planned to remain moderately visible on the periphery, however. The Rock Hall party was his highest profile convention-related event, but he also spoke Tuesday to the Illinois and Michigan delegations, appeared on a panel discussion at the conservative International Republican Institute and attended a U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce reception.
“He’s embarrassing his party in Ohio,” the Trump campaign chief, Paul Manafort, said Monday in explaining why Kasich would not appear on the podium. “Negotiations broke down,” Manafort asserted, because Kasich campaign chief John Weaver concluded his client “will have a better chance to be president by not supporting Donald Trump.”
The charge stung enough that a “‘John is not an embarrassment” declaration was proffered by Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who also has stayed away from the convention floor this week so as to distance himself from Trump during an intense re-election fight in their swing state.
Kasich, who is term limited as governor in two years, will turn 68 in the middle of the next round of presidential primaries
As a thank you present, Kasich has given his supporters an Ohio-shaped plaque with a quote from the speech he gave when he suspended his campaign, which drew a clear contrast between his aspirational approach and Trump’s fearfulness: “It is from this higher path that we are offered the greater view. Our strength resides within ourselves. The spirit of our country rests in us.”
The so-called two paths speech has become Kasich’s rhetorical touchstone since his race ended. He also, for example, made it the theme of a fundraising appeal on behalf of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan — another potential presidential candidate in four years, if Trump loses this fall, who could be counted on to start with messages of optimism and inclusion.
Ryan, though, has forged a balky path to endorsing Trump without ever embracing him. And even some of the governor’s most fervent fans, believing party unity is the most important priority heading toward November, warn that he’s making a mistake in not doing likewise if he has a presidential comeback bid in mind.
“Not a word about Trump,” declared an incredulous Karen Funk of Youngstown as the party broke up. “What a disappointment, because I think it will come back to haunt him.”