The Cable

GOP Foreign-Policy Divisions on Full Display in Cleveland

On the night Trump officially won the 2016 nomination, two Republican heavyweights made clear the party wasn't united behind him.


CLEVELAND — Just hours before the Republican Party made Donald Trump’s nomination official, two of the party’s best-known leaders — Ohio Gov. John Kasich and House Speaker Paul Ryan — made clear that they still weren’t entirely on the same page as the New York businessman.

Trump’s nomination Tuesday night — and the entire four-day Republican national convention in Cleveland — should’ve been the pinnacle of the real estate magnate and reality TV star’s rise to the top of a once-crowded field of would-be presidents, including Kasich. It also should have signaled his effective ascension to the top of the Republican “establishment” he has spent so many months railing against.

Instead, in separate speeches hosted by the International Republican Institute, a nonpartisan nonprofit, Kasich and Ryan highlighted lingering differences with the Republican nominee.

Kasich has refused to endorse Trump or attend the convention in his home state that he played a sizable role in helping bring to Cleveland. On Tuesday, just blocks from the convention hall, he went further, trumpeting his opposition to Trump’s views on trade, immigration, foreign policy, and national security.

Kasich clearly blamed Trump for what he described as an increasing attitude of “let’s just take care of us, let’s just pull the shades down, let’s lock the doors and let’s not take care of the rest of the world, let’s just take care of ourselves.”

The Ohio governor allowed that he has “never been a doctrinaire free trader,” but said his years in Congress left him to ultimately believe in the importance of closer economic relationships between countries.

“So we see in the world a growing nationalism, a growing isolationism, anti-immigration, and anti-trade — if you put that all together, what does that stew look like? What does it mean for the world? What does it mean for stability?” he said.

He summed up his opposition to Trump by pointing to the mogul’s talk of possibly pulling the U.S. out of NATO.

“Are we kidding?” he said. “Let me ask you a question: What would we put in its place?”

Kasich, Trump, and their aides have sparred in recent days in dueling media interviews, and the mutual dislike has literally manifested itself in the convention hall. In a rare move, organizers relegated the delegation from Ohio — a key battleground state generally guaranteed a spot front-and-center at the national conventions for both parties — to the sidelines stage left, sandwiched between Pennsylvania and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Ryan in his later speech sought himself to give the answer to Kasich’s question “What would we put in its place?” — but it wasn’t a commander-in-chief Trump.

Ryan’s ambitions to shape a new policy vision for the GOP and present it as a big tent party of ideas have been constantly thwarted by divisive rhetoric from Trump.

Still, the House speaker was more circumspect in comments alluding to his nominee, whose racially charged remarks have repeatedly left him in the uncomfortable position of explaining why he was still endorsing the businessman.

“Normally the president as the commander-in-chief sets the tone and the tenor and maps out the strategy — that’s not happening, so we need to do that,” Ryan said, explaining what he saw as the need for a new GOP policy blueprint during the Obama administration. “We need to show what we believe a good strong foreign policy looks like, for the world to see, so that we can run on this and win a mandate to put it in place.”

His comments had obvious implications. The policy draft was begun months before anyone thought Trump stood a shot, and was led by Ryan and GOP leaders without any real input from the candidate who is now the nominee.

In the end, Trump won with an overwhelming mandate from Republican voters not for the more traditional, “strong on defense” Republican foreign policy platform Ryan worked so hard to draft, but his own ever-evolving “America First” national security doctrine which breaks from much of it.

Without referring to the nominee by name, Ryan said he agreed the border did need to be secured and stricter screening needed to be done for immigrants and international visitors. But, he emphasized American leadership in the world, including trade, human rights, and democratic values — an implicit distancing with Trump’s policy pronouncements.

“These are things we should not shrink from,” he said, “but we should be proud of.”

The remarks came a day after the opening of the convention was marked by an eruption of intraparty rancor on the floor of the hall as “#NeverTrump” opponents tried, and failed, to mount an insurrection against the Republican National Committee and other pro-Trump supporters. The event was also memorable for a reason Trump would clearly not have wanted: wall-to-wall media coverage of his wife Melania’s apparent plagiarism of remarks in 2008 from Michelle Obama.

On Tuesday, roughly two hours after his earlier speech, it was Ryan who, as chairman of the convention, tried to put on a happy face as he made his first appearance on stage and kicked off the proceedings of state delegates chiming out their support for Trump, making his nomination official.

When he finally announced the results just after 8 p.m., Ryan gave the distinct impression of someone carrying on his political duty: Grin and bear it.

“Have we had our arguments this year? Sure we have – and you know what I call those? Signs of life,” Ryan said in his later speech at center stage. “Only with Donald Trump and Mike Pence do we have a chance at a better way.”

Yet even his urging for the party to come together came in the form of a question.

“So what do you say that we unify this party,” he said, “at this crucial moment when unity is everything?”

Credit: Alex Wong / Staff


Molly O’Toole is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, covering immigration, refugees, and national security. She was FP’s sole 2016 presidential campaign reporter, on the trail from New Hampshire to Nevada. Previously, she covered the politics of national security for Atlantic Media’s Defense One, where she reported from Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department. Before that, she was a news editor at the Huffington Post. Molly has also reported on national and international politics for Reuters, the Nation, The Associated Press, and Newsweek International, among others, from Washington, New York, Mexico City, and London. She received her dual master’s degree in journalism and international relations from New York University and her bachelor’s from Cornell University and in 2016 was a grant recipient of the International Women’s Media Foundation. She will always be a Californian. @mollymotoole

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