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Kasich: Trump’s ‘wrecking ball diplomacy’ causing deep resentment among vital allies

Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio criticized President Donald Trump on Thursday for engaging in “wrecking ball diplomacy” at the NATO Summit in Brussels. “We go in, we stir everything up,” said Kasich.

Trump set a combative tone at the summit, slamming United States ally Germany as being “totally controlled” by Russia and admonishing world leaders to increase their military spending.

In an interview with the PBS NewsHour’s anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff, Kasich — who ran against Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries — slammed the president’s performance at the summit, joining a chorus of critics who raised questions about Trump’s commitment to U.S. allies and NATO overall.

Trump is “not using the diplomacy that I think strengthens us,” Kasich said, adding: “The resentment is growing, and there is a question of trust. And that is a problem.”

Before departing the NATO summit for London, Trump did affirm his commitment to the alliance, saying in an impromptu press conference, “I believe in NATO.”

But Kasich said many of the Trump administration’s unilateral actions on the world stage have already placed the United States’ relationship with major world allies on delicate footing. Kasich cited Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accords, imposing tariffs on allies based on “flimsy grounds,” backing out of the Iran nuclear agreement and the “disaster” at the G7 summit last month.

“I see the fraying of a relationship that has kept the peace for 70 years somewhat at risk, and I’m very concerned about it,” Kasich said.

Other highlights from the interview

On Trump’s upcoming one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week:

Kasich said he’d be concerned if Putin asked Trump to call off military exercises in the Baltics, and that the president should be tough on Putin for Russia’s interference in international elections and take a hard line on arms control talks. “You gotta be really tough-minded when it comes to dealing with an adversary who used to be such an important KGB official,” Kasich said of Putin.

On why more Republicans aren’t speaking out against Trump:

“There’s a tribal effect. It was there when Obama was president, and we’re seeing it now with President Trump,” said the Ohio Republican, who served in Congress for 18 years. “You respect the office, but you don’t have to kowtow. You don’t have to say, ‘I don’t have any reason for being here.’”

On whether he’s running again in 2020:

Kasich, the last Trump rival to drop out of the 2016 GOP primaries, is term-limited as governor in January. With just six months left in office, he’s already hitting the speakers’ circuit — including, notably, a stop in New Hampshire just one week after this fall’s midterm elections.

Kasich’s criticism of Trump has fueled speculation that he may mount a second White House bid. In the NewsHour interview, he remained coy about his 2020 presidential ambitions. “It’s very hard to predict what’s gonna happen in the next five minutes in politics today than over the period of the next month. So we’ll see what happens,” Kasich said.

Watch the full interview in the player above.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return now to President Trump's actions at the NATO summit and questions from within his own party about his temperament in dealing with the foreign leaders there.

    For more on that, I spoke a short time ago with John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio and former presidential candidate.

    I began by asking Governor Kasich about why he's speaking out about the president's foreign policy.

  • Gov. John Kasich:

    Look, my concern is, this alliance that we have, the relationships that we have had that emerged after World War II, and many of the unilateral actions that we have taken, whether it's withdrawing from the Paris accord, the imposition of tariffs based on what I think are flimsy grounds, the unilateral withdrawal from the Iran agreement, withdrawal TPP, the disaster at G7, I see the fraying of a relationship that has kept the peace for 70 years somewhat at risk

    And I am very concerned about it. I didn't come to criticize him or level personal attacks. I am worried about the direction, the strength of the alliance, because it's important we are a strong team.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, today, this morning, in Brussels, before he left, the president said, we made tremendous progress at this meeting. He talked about how the U.S. is committed to a strong NATO.

    So I guess my question is, even if he kicks up a lot of dust, which his supporters acknowledge, if, in the end, there's results, if the allies, for example, are putting more money into defense — he's taking credit for it — what is wrong with that?

  • Gov. John Kasich:

    Well, first of all, I think there's a wrecking ball diplomacy here, that we go in, we stir everything up.

    And you have got to remember that the leaders of these countries, they represent their nations, and they also are leaders of their nation. And when we start talking about, is Germany under the influence of Russia, or when we impose tariffs on these countries on the basis of national security grounds, it creates a disharmony.

    Now, in terms of the 2 percent, they have committed to this four years ago. And I hope they have accelerated it. Look, this has been — so many presidents and congresses have asked them to do more, and I'm glad the president raised it.

    But I don't think he is raising it in the right way. It's not in — using the diplomacy that I think strengthens us, but causes deep resentment. And look at some of the comments of people who weren't in those meetings. The resentment is growing. And there is a question of trust. That's a problem.


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Excuse me.

    What are you worried is going to happen?

  • Gov. John Kasich:

    Well, I'm not worried anything is going to happen today.

    And I hope that this fraying relationship will be repaired. But words matter. Approaches matter. And so getting a little bit more spending out of them, that is a good thing. But what price have you paid in terms of disunity over the long run?

    And, Judy, this is not — this is — I don't even want to have to do this. I don't want to have to say this, but somebody's got to say these things. Somebody has to speak out on these tariffs, which, frankly, there is flimsy excuses for being able to move forward on them.

    The America alone philosophy, I don't think it's good for us. Now, look, the president was elected. I wasn't. I'm not doing this to advance myself, only to point out there's a difference here with some people and the president.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Why don't you think other Republicans who share your views are speaking out?

  • Gov. John Kasich:

    Well, we actually heard a couple of peeps out of the United States Senate. They actually passed a nonbinding resolution overwhelmingly on the importance of NATO.

    They have also passed a nonbinding resolution on trade, registering their deep disagreement with the president. So they're beginning to do it.

    In terms of — you know, there is this tribal effect. It was there when Obama was president. We're seeing it now with President Trump. And you respect the office, but you don't have to kowtow. You don't have to say, I don't have any reason for being here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you think that's what they're doing? They're kowtowing?

  • Gov. John Kasich:

    I think they have been, yes. I think maybe they're coming out of this stupor that they have been in up there. They don't say boo about anything.

    And if you — I hear — I'm not here all the time, but if you talk to them privately, they sort of have a different message in private than they have in public. And that doesn't mean they have to have a war with the president. I don't want to have a fight with the president.

    But when there are policy differences — and I'm not interested in the personal character attacks on the president. I don't do that. I'm not going to do it. But there are dramatic policy differences that I think undermine our ability to have a team of nations that support the values that we have believed in for 70 years.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One more foreign policy question.

    The president, as you know, meets on Monday with Vladimir Putin. They're going to have a one-on-one meeting. He's said in the last few days that this is going to be easier than his meetings with the European allies.

    Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, said today that the — she said she wants to know what the Russians have on Donald Trump — quote — "politically, financially and personally."

    Do you have questions about that?

  • Gov. John Kasich:

    No, that's not what enters into my mind.

    What enters into my mind are concerns when Donald Trump says that perhaps if Putin asks us to call off military exercises in the Baltics, you know, maybe we will do it, or, you know, not being tough enough with him on the way they have disrupted elections, not only ours, but around the world.

    And don't be saying that people in Crimea speak Russian, so maybe, you know, that annexation wasn't illegal. I mean, those are things I disagree with.

    But the conversation that he will have at this summit is very important, even though we fundamentally disagree with much of what Russia stands for today. But we need to have additional arms control talks and agreements to begin to limit our arsenals.

    Without doing that, I think it poses risks for the world. But let's not lose sight of who we're dealing with. George Bush went and said he looked into Putin's eyes and looked all the way into his soul. I don't know what side of Putin he was looking at that day. You have got to be really tough-minded when it comes to dealing with an adversary who used to be such an important KGB official.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The administration and the immigration policy.

  • Gov. John Kasich:


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Separating families at the border, there has been so much focus on this the last few weeks.

    The administration announced late last night that they are going to now reunite all children under the age of 5 with their parents, with the exception of something like 46 who still have — there are still some issues.

    The president is saying people should stay away from the border, whether they have children or not. They don't — they're not welcome in this country unless they're here illegally.

    He says, basically, what my opponents want is, they just want open borders, they want everybody to be able to come in.


  • Gov. John Kasich:

    Well, I think it's irresponsible for the Democrats to say we ought to abolish ICE, that we ought to have open borders. I don't know. They're way out in left — they're beyond left field. I don't even know where they are.

    However, the idea that we would separate families at the border, to me, is not an American value. I mean, when we see this, everybody came out against it. The administration has now reversed its policy.

    Judy, of course we have to have strong borders, but we also need to have an effective policy that deals with our neighborhood. If you're in Guatemala — for people that watch this show, you're in Guatemala, you're a mom, and your daughter is being threatened with rape or your son being murdered, of course you're going to get the heck out of where you live and you're going to come to the United States and seek asylum.

    So we need to have more asylum judges. We need to have facilities where families can be housed together. You know, give us your tired and your poor is part of what that Statue of Liberty is about.

    So, I believe an economic and security policy that would be directed at Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras is something that we should think about, because all these problems can't be solved at the border.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Finally, Governor, you say that you haven't decided whether you are going to run for president.


  • Gov. John Kasich:

    Look, I wouldn't be on if you weren't asking me.

    I don't know what I'm going to do, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you're — you're writing — you're writing opinion pieces.

  • Gov. John Kasich:


  • Judy Woodruff:

    You're traveling. You're going to be speaking in New Hampshire the week after the midterm elections.

  • Gov. John Kasich:

    Sure. Great opportunity to do that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What would it take for you not to run for president?

  • Gov. John Kasich:

    Here's what we know.

    It's very hard to predict what's going to happen in the next five minutes in politics today than over the period of the next month. So we will see what happens.

    And I will also tell you that my future — I mean, I control my future, to some degree, but my future is, to some degree, also in the hands of the lord. And I don't know where he's going to direct me. We will see.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we will keep talking to you.

  • Gov. John Kasich:

    I hope so.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor John Kasich of Ohio, thank you.

  • Gov. John Kasich:

    Thank you, Judy.

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