John Kasich ducks a Trump-Lewis fight in Atlanta

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Our AJC colleague Michelle Baruchman contributed this report:

The setting was perfect for Ohio Gov. John Kasich to take a dig at his once (and future?) rival Donald Trump.

The Republican was in Atlanta for the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration and he had just finished a panel discussion at The King Center when he was given a chance to offer his thoughts on the escalating war of words between Trump and Georgia Rep. John Lewis. Instead, he dodged and parried.

"The fact of the matter is what happened this last weekend is unfortunate, but this is Martin Luther King Day, and I'm not going into all that," Kasich said in an interview. "We need to just move beyond it. We're going to have a new president, and frankly, we're going to have to get behind a new president because it's our country so let's just move on."

He was referring to the feud that infuriated many Atlantans and drove the national political debate over MLK weekend. A day after Lewis questioned the legitimacy of Trump's presidency, the incoming president disparaged the civil rights icon as "all talk" and said his Atlanta-based district was in "horrible shape and falling apart."

Kasich, who was one of the last survivors of the brutal 2016 GOP presidential primary, used his appearance on the panel to appeal to the audience to concentrate on working together to create stronger communities.

“We need to stop spending time focusing on people at the top when the problems we have in our society are right here in our own neighborhoods,” Kasich said to a crowded auditorium.

Kasich referenced his work toward expanding access to health care, mental illness resources and drug counsel. He characterized King as a leader who worked from the “bottom up” to urge politicians to bring about change.

“The person in Washington is not going to fix education in your neighborhood. It’s the people on the ground level at the school boards,” Kasich said.

The room became tense after several audience members asked Kasich, a possible contender for another White House bid, about race relations and how to proceed after the election.

“Conversations on race are healthy,” he said. “There’s still a long way to go, but if we don’t talk about race, it becomes the elephant in the room.”

Religion, he said, is what has been lost in society.

“We all need to live a life a little bit bigger than ourselves.”

Read more about the Lewis-Trump fallout: