CLEVELAND – Two GOP movements are operating simultaneously in this city. You have the Donald Trump operation with the entirety of the Republican hierarchy operating out of “the Q” on a nightly basis, with varying degrees of competency.
And then you have Ohio Gov. John Kasich, appearing hither and yon in quick appearances like some guerrilla fighter, saying the things that can’t be said inside the Quicken Loans Arena.
On Tuesday, Kasich was the star of a bash at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But before that, he was in front of the International Republican Institute, a group of foreign policy-minded party stalwarts. We showed up because U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., a prominent Trump champion here in Cleveland, was also on the program, and we thought there might be an opportunity for fireworks.
We were wrong – as will be explained.
Kasich spoke for 15 minutes and never mentioned the name of Donald Trump. The Ohio governor simply declared himself in opposition to everything that Trump stands for in the realm of international relations. Said Kasich:
“I see growing nationalism. There’s nothing wrong with nationalism until it becomes extreme. We all love our countries. But you know, we know what growing nationalism to an extreme amount can mean.
“Secondly, there is an increasing tide of isolationism. Let’s just take care of us. Let’s just pull the shades down, lock the doors, and let’s just forget the rest of the world. We’ll just take care of ourselves.
“Thirdly, there is a growing pattern, as we all know, of anti-immigration. Everybody in this room would agree you need to have proper immigration. But when I look at immigration, I look at a new level of energy. I look at immigration as an opportunity. One of the things we face in Ohio is a stagnant growth of population. We want people to come to Ohio. We want to integrate these folks. We want them to become part of our economic dynamo.”
On the issue of trade, Kasich said he didn’t think of himself as “doctrinaire” and said he was often concerned with issues of fairness. And yet, he added “I found myself coming down on the side of trade relationships.”
So here we came to Kasich’s main point:
“If you put all that together, what does that stew look like? What does that mean for the world? What does it mean for peace? What does it mean for relationships? I’m very worried about it.
“The alliances. We think NATO doesn’t matter? Are we kidding? And let me ask this question: What would we put in its place? And what are we supposed to tell everybody – to be on their own? What about the Russians? Look at Brexit – who was the happiest man in the world with Brexit? Vladimir Putin.
“I understand the bureaucracy, and I understand the frustration about not being able to control certain things. I kind of like the idea that the Brits were the strong voice in terms of the kinds of things we care about on global security. Now, their voices are going to be muted.”
With that, Kasich left for the dulcet tones of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In his place was a four-person panel that included the junior senator from Georgia. Perdue largely stuck to a well-trodden path, until he came to the topic of Asia. Which worries him.
China’s military is approaching parity with U.S. military forces in Asia, Perdue said. And then he added what sounded like an opinion at variance with Donald Trump’s condemnations of trade deals in which the U.S. is always the loser.
At bottom, Perdue portrayed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade agreement with Asia negotiated by the Obama administration, as a national security matter:
“What [China is] doing in the South China Sea has unnerved a lot of those people, all the way down to Australia. So I think TPP is a huge step for us. It shows China that what we’re going to do is engage with our partners. It actually encourages China to develop on some things like pollution and labor issues and social issues, in order to become a part of that in the long term, and not pursue their own trading bloc.”
Now, when we mentioned that we thought this to be news, a spokeswoman for Perdue assured us that the senator has said the same before. Furthermore, she said, Perdue wasn’t endorsing “the” TPP so much as “a” TPP. The right trade deal, she said. Not any trade deal.