Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is heading to the backyard of rival John Kasich tonight after a tumultuous week of dubious claims about Muslims and fisticuffs at an Alabama rally. The Ohio governor wants to use the event to derail him.
Trump is speaking at a Columbus event blocks from Kasich’s office after drawing criticism in recent days for advocating the tracking of Muslims and suggesting that Islamic crowds in New Jersey cheered the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, an assertion for which there is no proof.
While Trump continues to lead polls for the Republican nomination, Kasich is part of a stepped-up effort seeking to paint the real-estate mogul as unprepared to lead and unable to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton. Kasich’s super-PAC, which is spending $2.5 million on a New Hampshire ad campaign targeting Trump, says it is attracting donors supporting other presidential candidates to help with the attacks.
“The next President needs to unify Americans, not divide them,” George Voinovich, a former Republican U.S. senator and Ohio governor, said in an e-mail that the Kasich campaign circulated before the rally. “Donald Trump’s rhetoric has been egomaniacal, inflammatory, and divisive.”
Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment on Kasich’s efforts.
Trump comes to the must-win swing state today after a week that included criticism from Kasich and fellow Republican candidates former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas after Trump spoke about creating a database of Muslims after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people. Civil libertarians have observed that the Constitution forbids making laws that target specific religions.
Asked by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on his This Week show on Sunday whether he was “unequivocally now ruling out a database on all Muslims,” Trump replied, “No, not at all. I want a database for the refugees that -- if they come into the country. We have no idea who these people are.”
Trump also defended his comments at a Saturday rally in Birmingham, Alabama, that he saw thousands of people in Jersey City cheering the collapse of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. While the PolitiFact website labeled the claim wholly false, Trump told Stephanopoulos, “It did happen. I saw it.”
At the Birmingham rally, a white man punched and tried to choke a black protester, prompting Trump to call for the protester’s removal, according to the Washington Post. He later said the man might have deserved to be roughed up.
Kasich’s attacks on Trump come as other donors are joining forces to target the Republican front-runner. A new “guerilla campaign” called Trump Card LLC is forming, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday. Matt David, chief strategist for the Kasich super-PAC New Day for America, told Reuters that 10 new donors backing different presidential candidates have already given money and pledges totaling more than $1 million to help with the attacks.
The super-PAC’s ad now running in New England, part of a campaign that will include direct mail, radio, and digital advertising, suggests that Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson would need “on-the-job training” to deal with international crises such as the Paris attacks.
“We want to call out people who are saying outrageous things and clearly aren’t prepared to be our commander in chief,” spokeswoman Connie Wehrkamp said.
The ad sparked a volley of tweets between Trump and Kasich last week, with Trump issuing insults such as, “I want to do negative ads on John Kasich, but he is so irrelevant to the race that I don’t want to waste my money.”
Kasich is greeting Trump’s arrival Monday with a conference call of Ohio leaders critical of him and an event with veterans including Thomas Moe, who spent five years in the infamous Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam with U.S. Sen. John McCain.
Kasich has languished near the bottom of national polls and in the middle of the pack in New Hampshire, where he hopes to break through in the nation’s first primary on Feb. 9. In recent weeks, he has taken a more aggressive stance on the campaign trail and in televised debates, criticizing proposals from Trump and highlighting his own experience as a two-term governor and 18-year member of Congress.
While it remains to be seen how effective the attacks on Trump will be, there’s an opportunity, said Stuart Stevens, a senior adviser to Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee.
“Trump has always been vulnerable, because the premise of his campaign is based on Trump, and I think Trump is a ridiculous figure as a presidential candidate,” Stevens said in a telephone interview.