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During the RNC, John Kasich Will Look Forward From the Outside

The popular Ohio governor will operate in an orbit beyond the party convention’s walls, much like he did over the course of his campaign.
Image: John Kasich
Republican presidential candidate Gov. John Kasich speaks during a campaign event at the La Salle Institute on Monday, April 11, 2016, in Troy, N.Y.Hans Pennink / AP

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Thursday will mark the one-year anniversary of Ohio Gov. John Kasich becoming the final entrant in a crowded GOP primary field in which Donald Trump was viewed as little more than a celebrity sideshow.

But that same day — July 21 — will also be when Trump steps on the stage in Cleveland to accept the party's presidential nomination. And Kasich won't be there to welcome him.

Kasich remains one of the more popular political figures in Ohio and across the country, according to recent polling data.

But while the governor circles the city next week, he isn't expected to set foot inside the Quicken Loans Arena — where the official convention speeches and ceremonies are taking place.

Instead, he will operate in an orbit beyond the party convention's walls, much like he did over the course of his campaign.

Related: John Kasich Suspends Presidential Campaign

During the primary, Kasich tried to project inclusiveness and civility even as voters clearly favored the brash and confrontational Trump.

He would regularly drop lines on the campaign trail like, "the Republican Party is my vehicle, but not my master," "my Republican Party doesn't like ideas," and "I have a right to shape what it means to be a conservative and what the Republican Party is all about."

At the RTCA dinner in Washington, D.C., last month, Kasich told a harsh joke at the expense of RNC Chair Reince Priebus.

Kasich so far has refused to endorse Trump. Never before has the governor of a state hosting his own party's nominating convention refused to get behind the nominee.

Keeping His Distance

As governor, Kasich will receive regular security briefings during the convention as demonstrators from across the country gather to protest the candidate he fought for months to decry and defeat.

Kasich's team has also lined up an extensive schedule of appearances and speaking engagements next week that offer clear undertones about what the governor values in his party's political climate.

While he won't address the Republican convention, he will be speaking at another convention in Ohio on Sunday night, the NAACP's annual gathering in Cincinnati.

On Monday, he will meet with Mexico's ambassador to the United States. On Tuesday, he will speak to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (which endorsed him during the primary).

These events are in addition to engagements with the International Republican Institute, speeches to numerous state delegations, and a reception at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in his honor.

"I think where he sees himself is he's going to continue to do what he thinks is the right thing to do, which has served him well for the first 30 years of public life," spokesman Chris Schrimpf said, pointing to the governor's recent comments to the Washington Post: “I’m more worried about my country than I’m worried about my party right now.”

Kasich's appearance at the NAACP Convention — while delegates from his party touch down in Cleveland — underscores the distance he stands from the Trump nomination. Trump declined the NAACP's invitation to speak, and the real estate mogul's absence marks just the 4th time since 1980 that a presidential candidate did not speak at their convention.

The NAACP convention this year falls as the nation continues to mourn the deaths of two more black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, at the hands of police, and the killing of five police officers in Dallas.

Over the course of his presidential campaign, Kasich spoke often of his work in Ohio related to police-community relations and criminal justice issues. In December, after a Cleveland police officer was not indicted in the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, Kasich told reporters that protesters in the wake of the decision "need to be heard."

In a NBC News/WSJ/Marist poll released Wednesday, it was clear that Trump has significant ground to gain among African-Americans in Ohio. The poll found African-Americans in the state favored Clinton at 88 percent to Trump's 0 percent.

The Convention Kasich Couldn't Have Predicted

This is not how Kasich imagined the Republican National Convention would be. A few years ago, he talked very enthusiastically about the prospect of bringing the convention to his home state.

After his chances of clinching the nomination became mathematically impossible this spring, Kasich would speak daily about how "exciting" the convention could be if it were contested, and he and his staff spent months wooing delegates so he could take the nomination away from Trump in Cleveland.

Now that he lost, Kasich and his team are working to walk a delicate line. They are getting hounded with media requests, yet are not planning on breaking any news or making big headlines. "I'm not going there to disrupt," Kasich told MSNBC in June.

But at the same time, the wheels of Kasich's political operation are still in motion as a team around him tries to keep his profile high and his political capital a valuable commodity.

The governor’s team reiterates he wants to do everything he can to keep his options open for what he might do after his term as governor ends in January 2019 — whether that could be a position in business, in the media, or another run at the White House.

In the 2020 Republican presidential field, “I would think he would be in the upper tier almost immediately,” said Tom Rath, one of Kasich’s top advisers in New Hampshire. "Think about how much further ahead we would be. People would know him and know what he stood for."

Instead of focusing on the top of the ticket this year, Kasich is campaigning and raising money for other down-ballot Republican candidates, something he was not as involved with before he ran for president this year — a lack of action some supporters believe hurt him in while he was trying to raise money and court endorsements this year.

In the two months since Kasich left the race, he has dug in and continued his work as governor of Ohio, generating big headlines when he signed a bill to legalize medical marijuana and took some heat from his own party for vetoing a voting bill that Democrats likened to a poll tax.

Kasich is working on writing a book about his message and his experience over the course of his campaign, and he plans on holding town hall-style meetings across the country to promote the book as soon as this October, his advisers say.

Kasich believes it’s too early talk about 2020. “That’s like asking somebody once they finish a marathon, you know, meet them at the finish line, saying, ‘you going to run another one?’” the governor told WEWS earlier this month.

Confronting the Trump Question

Kasich has still only spoken to Trump once since dropping out of the race on May 4, when he told Trump to read his "two paths" speech and explained why he couldn't back him.

"It's painful. It's painful. People even get divorces, you know?" Kasich told MSNBC's Joe Scarborough last month. "I've been a Republican all my life. How do you think I feel about this? I'm the Republican governor of Ohio. It's difficult."

Kasich said that day that Republican donors and other party leaders courted him heavily to get re-involved in the 2016 race in a number of ways.

"Look, if you saw the people that have contacted me, and want me to run as a third-party candidate, or the number of people that have come to me and say they want, you know, 'Would you run with Donald Trump?' I mean, you would be shocked," he said.

Meanwhile, a number of Republicans are still urging Kasich to get behind Trump. "It's about time he got on the Trump bandwagon," Newt Gingrich, who vied for Trump's vice presidential nod, said recently in Ohio.

But Kasich's aides say that doesn't bother him. "There's differences between requests and pressure," John Weaver, Kasich's strategist, said. "They have control of that in the way that they conduct themselves and the way that their policy proposals are. They should feel the pressure. You don't win states like Ohio unless you can cobble together coalitions and you can only cobble together coalitions with attractive, positive inclusivity."

This is why Kasich will stay on the outside at the convention. If he gets invited to a party and he can't say anything positive about the host, his advisers say he doesn't want to be a part of it. Weaver continued, "Even if he spoke and just laid out his positive message, critics and pundits would want to contrast that with Trump."

Kasich is well aware of his role.

"I know that as the governor of Ohio, with some people who pound on me — I said, 'I'm not prepared to do it,'" Kasich said in his MSNBC interview last month. "He's going to have to change. Period. End of story."