Donald Trump is seeking to unify the Republican Party heading into the general election, but as the party's convention begins on Monday, it's clear there's no love lost between the presumptive nominee and Ohio Governor John Kasich in a state critical to Trump's hopes of winning the presidency.
Kasich, who ran unsuccessfully for the presidential nomination and won only his home state, has refused to endorse Trump despite a pledge to do so. He's also refused to appear at the convention being held in Cleveland while attending other events and speaking to state delegates, including New Hampshire's.
Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign manager, said Kasich is being "petulant'' and "embarrassing his party in Ohio'' by refusing to back Trump in hopes it will help him win the presidency.
"That's a dumb, dumb, thing,'' Manafort said during a breakfast on Monday hosted by Bloomberg Politics. "Will John Kasich finally grow up? Maybe. If he does, we'll welcome him.''
Kasich, in turn, rebuffed overtures by the Trump campaign to consider being the billionaire's running mate shortly after he dropped out in May. Why? He considers Trump's brand of politics divisive and not compatible with his own, said John Weaver, chief strategist for Kasich's campaign.
"Senior representatives of Mr. Trump reached out to me about the interest the governor might have about being on the ticket," Weaver told Bloomberg Politics. "A hologram of Abraham Lincoln could have come back and asked him and he would have said 'no.'''
The rift matters because Ohio is a key part of Trump's strategy to defeat presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by winning Midwestern states. Ohio voted twice for Republican President George W. Bush and twice for Democrat President Barack Obama. No Republican has won the White House without carrying Ohio.
On Monday, Manafort said the Trump campaign is working with Ohio Senator Rob Portman, who faces a tough re-election battle against former Governor Ted Strickland, and that the billionaire doesn’t need Kasich to win Ohio.
"Is he upset with John Kasich?'' Manafort said of Portman at the breakfast. "Yeah, he's very upset with John Kasich because John Kasich's hurting him.
"It's not going to hurt us,'' Manafort said. "We said, 'Ok, you don’t want to be with us? We'll take care of the party in Ohio. We're going to work with Rob Portman, we're going to make sure Rob Portman gets re-elected, and we're going to win Ohio.''
Later on Monday, Portman, at his own "mini-convention" with hundreds of volunteers outside the actual convention, heaped praise on Kasich.
"John's not an embarrassment, he's a very valuable member of the Republican team here," Portman said.
He denied being upset about Kasich's decision not to go to the convention and back Trump, and said they simply have a different perspective on the party's nominee, who Portman has repeatedly endorsed.
"Look, he was in the fray, I wasn't," Portman said of Kasich. "We come at it from different perspectives."
Weaver posted a comment on Twitter suggesting Manafort was hurting Trump after naming Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate by attacking Kasich.
"Manafort bringing 'professionalism' to Trump, attacking
@JohnKasich this morning. Just another pivot after great VP rollout. #ClownShow,'' Weaver posted.
Matt Borges, the Ohio Republican Party chairman, also posted a comment on Twitter that Manafort "still has a lot to learn about Ohio politics. Doesn't know what he's talking about. Hope he can do better.''
Some Trump supporters are livid with Kasich's refusal to back the presumptive Republican nominee.
"As far as John Kasich is concerned, he signed a pledge to endorse the candidate. He is a pathetic stoner who will never be elected president of the United States. He's acting like a child," Roger Stone told Bloomberg Politics' "Masters in Politics" podcast in an interview to be posted Tuesday, adding, "I don't think it's going to hurt our chances to carry Ohio. I think people know a sore loser when they see one."
Trump's campaign reached out to Kasich's camp "repeatedly'' in April and May seeking the governor's support, and the answer was always "no,'' Weaver said. The two men spoke only once after Kasich suspended his campaign in May, he said.
Weaver said the governor asked him to send Trump a copy of his "two paths'' speech delivered on April 12 in New York before that state's presidential primary dominated by Trump. Without naming Trump directly, it describes a "path to darkness'' and a more positive, optimistic approach that Kasich promoted.
"Some who feed off of the fears and anger that is felt by some of us and exploit it feed their own insatiable desire for fame or attention,'' Kasich said in the speech, which noted Trump's slogan. "That could drive America down into a ditch, not make us great again.''
Kasich is focused on helping Republican candidates this fall to help the party maintain control of the House and Senate, and winning Ohio in the presidential race is up to Trump, Weaver said.
"You win Ohio by building coalitions and having a positive message,'' he said. "That's within his control if he chooses to do it.''
Borges said despite the animosity between Trump and Kasich, most Ohio delegates who backed Kasich have decided it's better to back the billionaire to prevent Clinton from becoming president.
"We want to win the White House,'' Borges said by phone before the convention. "That didn’t change because our guy didn’t get the nomination.''
-- With assistance from Steven T. Dennis, Tammy Haddad ,and Betsy Fischer Martin.