The key bit comes at 2:20 of the clip. Note the unhappy murmuring from the hometown crowd when he claims Kasich is “embarrassing his state” by skipping the convention. You could understand this sort of dumb bravado coming from Trump, who sees every snub that goes unpunished as proof of weakness, but Manafort’s supposed to be the cool-headed strategist with his eye on the big picture. He’s the guy who wanted Pence as VP because Pence would make it easier for the party to unify. If ever there was a moment to take the high road and offer some strategic lip service this was it. “Listen,” he could have said, “I admire John Kasich. He ran a good campaign and he’s an important voice in the party. If he’s willing to speak this week, we’d make it a priority to clear time for him.” Best-case scenario: Kasich hears that and decides to suck it up and attend. Worst-case scenario: Kasich continues to boycott but ends up looking small and petty by doing so.
Making this even odder, Manafort needs the Ohio GOP’s help in building a ground game in their must-win state. Trump barely has a functioning campaign right now. Ohio Republicans can fill the void. So naturally the smart thing to do is gratuitously annoy them.
“All along, we’ve been looking for a more unifying message coming from the Trump campaign,” [Ohio GOP Chairman Matt] Borges added. “And then [Manafort] came to Cleveland this morning as we’re lifting the curtain on one of the crown jewels of the Republican Party and the effort we had in Ohio to bring this convention here, he decided to go in a direction that was obviously calculated — he did it on all the shows — and he’s factually incorrect.”
The remarks from Borges, a top Kasich ally, are significant: Trump is relying heavily on the Ohio GOP’s infrastructure for ground game support, and now tensions are boiling over into the open.
Former Kasich strategist John Weaver took off the gloves on Twitter:
@JohnKasich : 60% overall approval rating, 80% Ohio GOP. Man of integrity/principle. If you've associated with autocrats, won't recognize.
— John Weaver (@JWGOP) July 18, 2016
Perhaps in Kiev you could bully an opponent of Yanukovych or use some Putin oligarch's thugs to do so. No here. Go pick on a 3rd grader.
— John Weaver (@JWGOP) July 18, 2016
That’s a reference to Manafort’s lucrative pre-Trump career as an advocate in Washington for some of the sleaziest tyrants on the planet. Given the new GOP position on Ukraine, he may still be an advocate for them behind the scenes.
His jab at Kasich for “embarrassing” Ohio isn’t his only snub of the convention’s home state this week either. For reasons known only to the Trump brain trust, they decided to move the Ohio delegation on the floor to the side of the stage behind Pennsylvania even though traditionally the home state sits up front:
So much for host state favoritism. Ohio’s state delegation will not be seated in the front row at the Republican convention at the Quicken Loans Center this coming week.
Instead, the Buckeye State delegates will be seated in the second row from the podium, to the stage’s left wing, behind the Pennsylvania delegation.
State delegations with front row seating are New York, New Jersey, California, Connecticut, Alabama and Pennsylvania. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and California are in the prime center areas of the stage.
Of those six states, five are foregone conclusions in November; only Pennsylvania is in play. Other states whose voters made the terrible mistake of voting for someone other than Trump in the primaries have been exiled to the cheap states. So, you tell me: What does Manafort gain by swiping at a guy like Kasich who has nothing to lose by snubbing Trump but does have political connections that would be useful to Trump in November? I can’t explain it except by assuming that Manafort on some level shares Trump’s instinctive belief that it’s better to saw off your own limb and show “toughness” than it is to risk “weakness” by asking for help. Maximum confrontationalism in all things is a fine quality in a would-be commander-in-chief.
Exit question: How did we arrive at this strange plane of reality where Ted Cruz is willing to speak at Trump’s pageant but John Kasich insists on standing on principle?