At Ohio Rally Trump Shows Softer Side, Walks Back McCain Comments

WEST CHESTER, Ohio — When in Ohio, do as the governor does. At least that’s what it felt like when Donald Trump came to the Buckeye state Sunday afternoon.

Adopting Ohio Governor John Kasich’s usual town hall event format, Donald Trump spent an hour speaking to and taking questions from his competitor’s constituents. The GOP front-runner has been largely mum on Kasich on the stump, but shifted his focus to the man who could stand in his way of a clean sweep of states on Tuesday.

A new NBC/WSJ/Marist poll shows Kasich leading Trump in the state, a must-win to keep Kasich’s presidential hopes alive.

Trump hit Kasich on his support of NAFTA, his time as a managing partner for Lehman Brothers, and even leveled an untrue claim that Kasich didn’t qualify for the ballot in soon-to-come primary state Pennsylvania.

While Kasich did submit the required number of signatures to qualify, his candidacy was challenged by the Rubio campaign, albeit after the deadline to challenge had passed.

While both the Trump and Rubio campaigns could spin the point that Kasich didn’t qualify, no court has removed the Ohio governor from the ballot in Pennsylvania.

Image: Donald Trump
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up as he speaks during a campaign stop at the Savannah Center, Sunday, March 13, 2016, in West Chester, Ohio. John Minchillo / AP

Despite calling Gov. Kasich a "nice guy," Trump hit for for “playing the good guy” and adopting the persona of the “grown up in the room.” Trump forewarned the crowd: "He’s not gonna do the job!"

But for some of those in attendance, it wasn’t a matter of hating Kasich as much as it was the desire for someone entirely new and untainted by the status quo of politics. Notably, the vitriol often inspired in supporters by mention of rivals Rubio and Cruz was largely absent when Trump mentioned Kasich.

Susan Casey of Green Hill, Ohio told NBC that she liked Kasich’s "gentlemanly tone" but "this year is just not his year." Instead, she offered, he could’ve done well last cycle if he had won the nomination instead of Mitt Romney.

The tell-it-like-it-is attitude of Trump is a big draw for Ohioan Diana Nicely. “I still think Trump doesn’t sugar coat it,” she said, noting that her choice of Trump over her hometown governor is less because of who Kasich is and more because of who Trump is. “I just think we need change all around,” she said.

The Q&A style event is a rarity for Trump, but one that he successfully employed as he tried to seal the deal before the New Hampshire primary — a vote he won handily, followed by Kasich. Trump now seeming to double down his efforts in all-important Ohio, even cancelling a planned-Miami rally to swap in an election-eve stop in Youngstown, Ohio.

Coincidentally (or not) Kasich will also be in Youngstown on Monday, albeit in the morning, with Ohio Sen. Rob Portman.

Meanwhile, it took eight months but Donald Trump finally walked back comments he made last year about Sen. John McCain and prisoners of war. During the town hall here in West Chester, Trump was confronted by his past utterances that McCain isn’t a war hero because he was captured and Trump "likes people who weren’t captured."

A veteran whose son was captured and killed in Iraq asked Trump for clarification on his past comments, telling Trump “What I want you to do is just clarify for me, because I think it’s important for all these people here and for a lot of veterans that’s in Ohio, especially Ohio."

The man offered, “I know what you were doing” but still asked for clarity.

"You know exactly what I was doing," Trump responded. "They are heroes, just so you understand. And real heroes, okay? You know that."