Republican John Kasich, undecided on a 2020 run for the White House, takes aim at Trump's foreign policy

  • Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is undecided about making another run the presidency in 2020, appears to be using President Donald Trump’s shocking press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin to demonstrate how he differs with the president on foreign policy.
  • Kasich's allies and advisors say he offers a sharp contrast to Trump when it comes to foreign policy. Trump appeared to embrace Putin during Monday’s summit in Helsinki.
  • “What happened yesterday was remarkable in a bad way for Trump but could be a critical moment for John,” said Thomas Rath, who worked as a senior advisor to Kasich during the 2016 campaign.
Ohio Governor John Kasich (R-OH)
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Ohio Governor John Kasich (R-OH)

Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is undecided about making another run the presidency in 2020, appears to be using President Donald Trump’s shocking press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin to demonstrate how he differs with the president on foreign policy.

Kasich's allies and advisors say he offers a sharp contrast to Trump when it comes to foreign policy. Trump appeared to embrace Putin during Monday’s summit in Helsinki, and accept the Russian president’s “extremely strong and powerful” denial that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

“What happened yesterday was remarkable in a bad way for Trump but could be a critical moment for John,” said Thomas Rath, who worked as a senior advisor to Kasich in New Hampshire when the governor ran for president in 2016. “He is an expert in foreign policy and is taking advantage of the moment. He has very strong views about where the Republican Party has to be and he relishes the stage."

On Tuesday, Trump tried to walk back his controversial comments from Helsinki, claiming he misspoke during the press conference. He also claimed that he does, in fact, support the intelligence agencies conclusions that Russia interfered in the election. Even still, he said he believes other countries could have also been involved.

Kasich has been steadfast in his own foreign policy agenda, which dovetails far more closely with traditional Republican views on Russia and other issues on which Trump has taken different positions. The Ohio governor has also sought to strike a unifying tone.

Speaking with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews on Monday, Kasich said Trump's statements Monday were an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to coalesce over what he called "a traditional model, which is a strong America, belief in our allies, the critical importance of the western ethic.”

NATO worries

Kasich also said he was concerned about the relationship between the U.S. and NATO, following Trump's contentious meeting with other heads of state from the trans-Atlantic defense alliance.

“I’m really worried about the stability of the West, we’re not there yet, but it’s fraying," Kasich told CNN. "I don’t know why we want to fray an alliance.”

Kasich did acknowledge, however, that Trump's style of managing foreign policy “from moment to moment” holds some sway with some GOP voters. Yet, he added, it's not a long-term solution for engaging with the world.

For Kasich, Trump's widely criticized appearance with Putin is a chance to stress that Trump's approach may not be what the country needs, said Charlie Black, who advised the Ohio Republican during the 2016 campaign.

“In this case, John can do what is right and gain politically. Trump gets traction on protectionism, but not isolationism,” Black said.

Will he or won't he?

Kasich is continuing to evaluate whether he will run against Trump in 2020, his advisors said.

Rath described Kasich as “leaning straight up” when it comes to deciding whether he will run for president again.

“I think he feels that there is a need for somebody to say that the Republican Party has a core set up principles that are not reflected by this president. Somebody has to come up to say the emperor has no clothes,” Rath added.

While others close to the governor believe Kasich would struggle against Trump in a primary, he continues to give indications that he hasn’t let go of the idea of running against the commander-in-chief.

Kasich will be traveling in November to New Hampshire, a pivotal state for any candidate running for the White House. He will be the featured speaker at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications' First Amendment program. The annual event, which has been held for 16 years, previously featured presidential hopefuls including Trump himself and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who ran against President Barack Obama in 2008.

During the 2016 presidential primaries, Kasich came in second to Trump in New Hampshire. He had attended the same event at that time.

In March, Kasich met with billionaire investor and philanthropist Ron Burkle in Los Angeles, who has a reputation for donating to candidates and causes across the political spectrum, sources previously told CNBC.

Kasich was asked at the time to host a speaking event at Burkle's home. The billionaire co-founder of investment firm Yucaipa Companies did not attend the event, the sources said then.

Meanwhile, Kasich's allies have been courting GOP mega-donors to gauge their interest in a 2020 run. Several have said they are willing to back him over Trump under certain circumstances, including whether Republicans can hold congressional majorities this fall.

Kasich's super PAC, New Day for America, continues to be active. Second quarter filings show the operation raised $59,940, including a $25,000 contribution from former CBS President Harry Sloan. Currently, the PAC has $177,216 on hand and has raised over $500,000 in the 2018 election cycle.

The Trump campaign, meanwhile, had $33 million in cash on hand at the end of June, according to a filing.