Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who ran against President Trump in last year’s Republican primary race, criticized Trump’s immigration order on Sunday over its rollout and consequences, saying the directive was “ham-handed” given that it has “sowed so much confusion” among international travelers and “sent a message that somehow the United States was looking sideways at Muslims.”
“In probably many Arab capitals today, people are like, ‘What is America doing?’ ” Kasich said.
But the anger Kasich voiced in a phone interview with The Washington Post was directed less at Trump than at White House aides over their handling and implementation of the executive order.
“Frankly, when I look at this, I think he was ill-served by his staff,” Kasich said. “If I were the president, I’d be very upset with the staff — that they didn’t say, ‘Hey, wait hold on a second.’ Because that’s what executives do. They have people around them that help them to understand, ‘Hey, your message is fine, but here is what’s going to come from it.’ ”
When The Washington Post asked Kasich whether he was referencing White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, Kasich said, “No, no,” and maintained that he was making a broader assessment and was “not interested in being a critic of the Trump administration” or commenting on specific advisers.
“I’m not sitting here wanting to be a clanging bell,” he said. “I’m not sitting here trying to be a negative force against this administration.”
Kasich declined to comment on chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon’s elevation to a regular seat on the National Security Council’s principals committee because he has not yet reviewed that decision.
“I’ll have to look at it,” he said. “I don’t know the man.”
The governor’s comments followed Trump’s Friday signing of an executive order that bans entry to the United States for refugees, migrants and foreign nationals from seven mostly Muslim countries. That order has triggered a furor and numerous protests.
Kasich said Trump “absolutely has a right to be concerned about the kind of people that are coming in. We have to vet. That’s important, I agree with that,” but reiterated that he believes the White House staff did not properly prepare for the many issues that have emerged since the order was signed.
“Do it right. Don’t do something that you learn to regret or is reversed by courts. You have to be exact on these things. Perhaps this is part of a learning process for them. I don’t know, but perhaps,” he said.
Kasich said he was not surprised by how many congressional Republicans have been generally supportive of Trump or somewhat muted in their criticisms of Trump’s order, due to the party’s eagerness to work with Trump on a wide range of issues in the coming weeks and the fragility of those relationships.
“I just think it’s natural when you’re in Congress and the president of your party says something and you have a lot of things you want to get done. I think it’s kind of natural for people to be somewhat reticent in criticizing the president,” Kasich said.
“The party is my vehicle and not my master,” he continued. “But I’m not here to criticize them. They all have to deal with it in their own way. I’m not interested in criticizing the Republican leadership.”
Kasich wrote an op-ed article for Time magazine this month that underscored his traditionally Republican and hawkish worldview, one that values global institutions such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Asked about the disruptive populist and nationalist rhetoric coming from Trump’s White House, in particular from Bannon, Kasich acknowledged its ascent but cautioned the administration about embracing that ideology.
“There is a rise of global nationalism. We’re seeing it in France. In Austria it sort of rose but didn’t prevail. We’re seeing some of it in the Netherlands right now. … But I think we have to be steady. We are the leader of the free world.”
He added: “These international institutions have to evolve. They have refused to change, and when that happens, you get a chaotic situation, and that’s part of this frustration and reaction all over the globe.”
At the end of the interview, Kasich dismissed the suggestion that Trump’s national security policies could prompt a major Republican figure to mount a 2020 primary challenge.
“That question is so out there it doesn’t even dignify a response,” he said. “It’s very early in this administration. … Sometimes an administration has to get its sea legs and figure out how to function.”