Rejection of Trump both helped and hurt image
WILMINGTON, OHIO | Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s political future is going to be linked to his decision to dump Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, breaking his pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee, and solidifying his image as a polarizing figure that appears eager to put his imprint on the party.
The public split with Mr. Trump bolstered Mr. Kasich’s image among Republicans repulsed by the New York Republican’s brashness.
It also further alienated grassroots activists both inside and outside Ohio who say Mr. Kasich is not conservative enough for them and scoff at his attempts to claim the moral high ground.
“He could be positioning himself for 2020, but it is a dicey prospect because the Trump supporters will remember that he would not support Trump,” said Paul Beck, professor emeritus of political science at the Ohio State University. “So it is a chancy for Kasich I think.”
Mr. Kasich’s sole victory in the Republican primary came in Ohio and he helped prolonged the race by ignoring calls to step aside, to clear the decks for another candidate to oppose Mr. Trump one-on-one.
Some of Mr. Trump’s other primary rivals, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, also went back on their pledge to support the party’s nominee, whoever that may be, but they have generally stayed out of the limelight — unlike Mr. Kasich.
The 64-year-old scored headlines when he skipped Mr. Trump’s coronation at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, but attended events outside the arena.
He labeled Mr. Trump’s rhetoric dangerous, and joined President Obama at a press conference in September in which he urged Congress to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that Mr. Trump opposed, a stance that has helped the tycoon with workingclass white voters.
Mr. Kasich argued free trade was good for the nation, and that he was taking the high road, saying he welcomes “the fact that people will criticize me for putting my country ahead of my party.”
The last straw for Trump backers came when he refused to follow through with the promise he made in the primary to back the eventual nominee, and instead cast his ballot for Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the party’s 2008 nominee and top target of criticism from conservative activists.
“Kasich sucks. Sorry excuse my language. He sucks,” said Dreama Contner, a 51-year-old mental health worker. “He has no backbone. He didn’t stand with the Republican Party. He acted like a little brat. We need strong. We don’t need wussies out there.”
Other voters who didn’t wish to be named described him as “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” predicted “this is probably the end of his political career.”
Like Ms. Contner, many Trump backers said they would never support him if he ran for another elected office.
“When you lose, you lose, and you still stand up for your party and back them. You don’t make a ruckus and do everything he did,” she said.
Other Ohio voters, though, said they respected Mr. Kasich’s move, and said they wish they could have voted for him on Election Day.
“I would have voted for Kasich,” said Georgialiah Hannah, who at age 78 had never voted for a Democrat in a presidential race and cast a vote for Hillary Clinton. “I would be for Kasich in any way. I really believe in him. Basically I trust him.”