The rift between Kasich and Trump – and Trump's backers, such as Priebus – already has jeopardized the GOP nominee's chances in Ohio, the swing state every Republican president has needed to reach the White House.
While Republican voters' reactions to Kasich's stand have been mixed, Kasich's backers include most of Ohio's top Republican officials, who were slow to back Trump. Most of the state's top operatives are Kasich veterans, and they declined to work for the nominee, putting Trump behind in setting up an Ohio campaign. At the Republican convention in Cleveland, Trump, Kasich and their advisers spent the week locked in hostilities over the Ohio governor's refusal to enter the convention hall in his home state and the GOP nominee's refusal to let it go and focus on accepting the nomination.
Nevertheless, Trump remains locked in a tight race with Clinton in the Buckeye State, leading her 42 percent to 40 percent in the Real Clear Politics average of recent polls that include third-party candidates. In the eyes of Trump and Priebus, Kasich escalated the feud again last week, making national headlines by teaming with Democratic President Barack Obama to try to sell the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. In a press conference, complete with the striking image of Kasich at the White House briefing room podium, the Ohio governor did his best to destroy Trump's signature arguments against the trade deal – all while serving as the guest of a man whom Republicans nationally have cast as an arch enemy this election season.
This time, it was Priebus, not Trump, who chose confrontation.
"Reince Priebus needs to quit with the sideshows," said Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges, a Kasich ally who has helped the Trump campaign set up in Ohio. "The governor absolutely has the right to do what he wants to do, to say what he wants to say, a responsibility to lead a state of 11 million people in the way that he feels is appropriate. And then the political people like Reince and me have an election to go win. So let's go win that."
Trump expressed annoyance over Kasich's new pro-trade alliance with Obama when Borges and Trump talked at a fundraiser over the weekend in Oklahoma.
"I just said, 'Look, you're winning in Ohio. I don't see how getting in a very public fight with the governor is going to help you now. We've got 50 days left. Let's just focus on how to win Ohio,' " Borges told The Enquirer. "He said, 'OK, I'm not going to say anything about him for now.' " Borges said he had a similar conversation with Priebus Saturday night, only to see the RNC chairman lob the attack at Kasich on the Sunday TV show.
Of course, this isn't the first time Team Kasich has clashed with Priebus either. Most notably, Priebus declared Trump the party's presumptive nominee before Kasich dropped out of the GOP primary, something the Ohio governor complained about for weeks afterward. And Republicans troubled by Trump's rise, including those on Team Kasich, were quick to blame Priebus this year and to eye Borges himself as Priebus' possible successor.
"That thought is not even on my mind," Borges said Monday. "I have one thought, and that is how to win the most elections up and down the ticket, from Donald Trump and (U.S. Sen.) Rob Portman to (Hamilton County commissioner candidate) Dennis Deters and everyone in between. That's what we have to be focused on."