Ohio, Trump, and the Primaries

Thinking about party evolution and behavior going into 2022.

Clare Malone has a piece in The Atlantic that illustrates the way in which primary contests in 2022 are going to shape the GOP, especially in terms of how much the party will make a Trumpward turn: Ohio Is Now Fully Trumpified. The piece focuses on the 2022 Republican Senate primary to nominate a candidate to run for the seat currently occupied by Rob Portman, who is retiring after two terms.

I will say that the headline strikes me as a bit premature insofar as we know neither the outcomes of the primary nor of the general election, and the article is focused on one office. Still, it well illustrates an issue I continually discuss: how US parties are shaped by primaries. For example, the Ohio GOP has recently produced Kasich and DeWine as governors, two non-Trumpy Republicans–but will that be true in the future?

Ohio, once a toss-up on the electoral map, is now firmly Republican; Trump won the state by eight points in 2016 and in 2020. Still, it’s not accustomed to the kind of medical-grade Trumpism that, say, Governor Ron DeSantis serves up in Florida—at least not yet. Republican Governor Mike DeWine was an early, steady, science-led voice during the country’s initial COVID-19 response, and although Trump won Ohio with 53 percent of the vote in 2020, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown kept his seat with the same percentage of the vote in 2018. Whether Ohio Republican voters want the party’s new Trump ideology to be in-your-face loud or laundered through the bland language and bad suits of Styrofoam-cup coffee klatches remains to be seen. The latter might help win back suburban, college-educated women, but the former is much better fodder for Tucker Carlson’s show. As Dave Luketic, an Ohio GOP strategist, told me, “The party’s conflicted.” It doesn’t know what kind of Trumpism it wants to pursue.

Which is why so many of its ambitious figures have decided (or are likely to decide) to throw their hats into the 2022 Senate race. In addition to [former state GOP Chair Jane] Timken and [former State Treasurer Josh] Mandel, there’s hillbilly turned venture capitalist J. D. Vance, businessman Bernie Moreno, salt-of-the-earth investment banker Mike Gibbons, Representative Mike Turner, and state Senator Matt Dolan, whose family owns the Cleveland Indians. The group has more than a year to feel out where the electorate’s heart lies—with the traditions of Ohio’s Republican past, or with a Trump-inflected future.

The piece starts with a discussion of US Representative Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH16) who was one of a handful of House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump after the 1/6 Insurrection, and whom Trump personally targetted at his recent rally. The piece notes the degree to which GOP Senate primary candidates have found it necessary to attack Gonzalez as an act of partisan signaling.

The pillorying of Gonzalez became a signal to a certain kind of primary voter that all that had thrilled them to Trump—his exuberant contrarianism, his chest-thumping invective—would live on in certain Senate candidates.

(Emphasis in the original).

Malone highlights Timken and Mandel and their two flavors of pro-Trump messaging (which seems to boil down to Tinken is trying to deploy a trumpian veneer while Mandel appears more full-on trumpist):

The primary is a post-Trump stylistic experiment in bridging the gap between the old party and the new. Timken, who’s never run for office, seems dispositionally and biographically to have more in common with the party leaders of days gone by. A Harvard-educated lawyer who married into a wealthy family, she’s a major Republican donor. She gave enough to hang around at a Trump-attended April fundraising weekend in Florida, while Mandel gate-crashed the event and was asked to leave. Mandel could probably out-yell Timken in a room—he was temporarily suspended from Twitter for asking which types of “illegals” would commit more crimes: “Muslim Terrorists” or “Mexican Gangbangers”—but she has Trump bona fides to play up. “Kasich had transformed the party organization into a corrupt, anti-Trump mess,” Timken said earlier this year, bragging that she’d turned the Ohio GOP into “a well-oiled, pro-Trump machine.” Trump reportedly was tempted to endorse Timken this spring, though he’s held off for now.

Mandel is the current front-runner in the polls (which is way to early to tell us much), but:

The 43-year-old Mandel, who is running for the Senate for a dizzying-for-his-age third time, has a lead in early polls. Much of that is likely name recognition, though, which might not end up being an advantage. The suburban Republican politico told me that Mandel’s incessant campaigning over the past decade has worn some donors out. In May, the Delaware County GOP ended its joint fundraising account with Mandel, and three of the campaign’s fundraisers left. In late June, reports came out that staffers had quit because of a toxic work environment created by Mandel’s finance director, who is also his girlfriend.

And then there’s J.D. Vance:

Meanwhile, Timken’s competition in the Trumpy-but-I-know-wine lane could be Vance, the author of the best-seller Hillbilly Elegy. Raised in a working-class town in southwest Ohio before moving on to Yale Law School and a career in finance, Vance has carefully transitioned his Never Trump Republicanism—“I can’t stomach Trump,” he told NPR’s Terry Gross in 2016—into what might be called academic populism. These days, he tweets and writes a lot—about the birth rate, about tech companies, about how day care is bad for American children—and is a frequent guest on Tucker Carlson’s show, not Gross’s. Carlson, who declined to talk for this article, citing his friendship with a number of people in the race, has described Vance as “soft-spoken but really intense.” Carlson’s endorsement, implicit or not, could in some ways be as powerful as Trump’s. The nature of Republican politics is now such that local issues seem to matter less than what Fox News decides will drive the day.

At any rate, all of this well illustrates, I think, behavior we are going to see nationally going into next year: Trump is a key figure, being the last GOP president and potential nominee for 2024. It is therefore normal (as much as that word seems inappropriate for discussions of Trump) for him to be influential in the party. But this question of which flavor of trumpism is a real one: is some trumpiness enough or does one have to go full off-the-rails populism? (This is reminiscent of the Tea Party movement in 2010 and 2012: going full Tea Party worked in a number of primaries, but also created some problems for the GOP in the general election).

(Vance is his own issue and the Terry Gross era/anti-Trump Vance, during which a lot of liberals were praising his book, to the current Tucker Carlson/trumpist version is its own tale that will likely be discussed here at some point should he run).

The whole piece is worth reading if one is interested in how that Senate primary is shaping up and, really, about the current state of the GOP as individual candidates seek to navigate the current politics of GOP nomination politics.


I do want to conclude on this point from the very end of the article:

Gonzalez spent the evening of the rally out to dinner with his wife. Although the past few months have been rough for him—he was officially censured by the Ohio Republican Party in May—Gonzalez has remained steadfast in his stance that Trump’s ire wouldn’t affect his chances. “The job is a legislative job,” he told Cleveland.com. ”The job isn’t to go on TV and Twitter and scream and yell. The job is: How are you productive for your constituents?” At least, that’s what the job used to be.

We would like it to be the case that elected members of government are evaluated, first and foremost, on how well they work for their constituents once in office. Further, we would like that assessment to be based on how well that govern. But, of course, most people haven’t a clue about how government works and what it produces and they don’t judge on such outcomes as much as one might like.

There is also the broader point that we know that people’s basic perception of things like the economy are directly influenced not by object reality, but by partisan perception. For example, a headline from a piece from FiveThirtyEight almost exactly two months ago: Republicans’ Pessimistic Views On The Economy Have Little To Do With The Economy

The above is not about objective assessments, but based mainly on subjective feelings.

All of this, especially the conclusion o the article, reminded me of a Twitter thread from political scientist and scholar of the Congress, Josh Huder:

To return to Gonzalez’s quote above: “The job is a legislative job. The job isn’t to go on TV and Twitter and scream and yell. The job is: How are you productive for your constituents?”

A snarky, but nonetheless accurate and telling response to this is, ask Marjorie Taylor Greene if the job is legislating or going on TV and Twitter and screaming and yelling? In terms of her re-election prospects, I fear that the screaming and yelling will be more than sufficient. (Don’t get me wrong, from a normative POV I would prefer it if she were challenged and defeated in the primary by someone who argued that being on committees and legislating was important, but this seems unlikely).

The bottom line is this: the electorate is polarized and sorted into partisan groups with no viable third options. Since voters believe (as per the graph above) that their side is the best one for the county, primary challengers, especially for open seats, are going to try and show how partisan they are more than talking about policy. By definition, a way for Republicans to show that they are Real Republicans is to support the party’s leader, i.e., Trump, and to follow the party line about 1/6 not being that big of a deal (among other things). Keeping in mind that both politicians and voters already adhere to the party for other reasons (taxes, social policy, economic policy, etc.) which builds the base to support the more pernicious ideas that we are seeing.

Huder’s point that partisanship can decouple policy from politics is one that is worth remembering as we watch the 2022 campaign unfold.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2022, Elections, Political Parties, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Scott F. says:

    This post presents an interesting juxtaposition with James’ post today on culpability in the culture wars. To moderate or not to moderate, that is the question. And I suspect the answer will be different between the primaries and the general even in Fully Trumpified Ohio.

    I also suspect that the answer is different for liberals versus conservatives as well, otherwise we wouldn’t have President Biden at the moment.

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  2. Modulo Myself says:

    What’s crazy about Vance is that he could have easily run as a moderate Democrat based on his book. Instead, he’s like ranting about generals and CRT and losing, badly.

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  3. CSK says:

    Dean Taylor, I hope you or JJ will write about Vance sometime soon. I’ve mentioned twice over the past few days that he’s always rubbed me the wrong way, even back when he was a Trump-despising liberal icon. Or claimed to be such.

    The man’s a sleazy opportunist, nothing more. He hated Trump, or purported to hate Trump, in the time after the publication of Hillbilly Elegy when he thought that hating Trump would garner him good press in the organs that count with intellectuals, such the the NYTimes and NPR. Now he wants to be senator from Ohio, an increasingly red state, so he’s going to go all-out Trump.

    There is one way in which he resembles Trump: Neither believes in anything but his own advantage.

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  4. grumpy realist says:

    I suspect that we’re seeing the political equivalent of anti-vaxxers. I’ve always thought that the main reason anti-vaxxers have managed to get the foothold they have because we don’t remember what it was like when we didn’t have vaccines against polio, diphtheria, measles, and smallpox. Our cultural history has lost the remembrance of when families would lose 50% or more of their children to diseases. So we now have the luxury of jibbing at the bit against vaccines because for most of us, it really doesn’t matter.

    Similarly, we have too many politicians, on both right and left, who have forgotten what it means to in fact run a government. Politics has turned into entertainment, which means that the more people can talk loudly and punch the air with controversial statements, the more they get attention. But as for keeping the whole system running smoothly and consistently? The loudest politicians don’t care. Half of them are like Trump, mentally ill people grabbing for power and attention.

    We’re going to learn the hard way that government needs to be maintained, ditto for the maintenance of the unspoken rules that kept everything on its tracks–and that there’s more to running a country than being amused by loudmouths Kabuki-fighting with each other for the benefit of 24-hour “news” channels.

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  5. Stormy Dragon says:

    @grumpy realist:

    As I’ve mentioned several times here: irrational behavior is like any other economic good; as the cost of it has gone down, the demand for it has increased.

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  6. @CSK: I never read his book, although I had had it recommended to me. I was aware of it and am passingly familiar and was intrigued to do reading about it. I also read a bit about the movie adaptation given that the reviews were largely negative (I considered watching the movie because of Glenn Close and Ron Howard more than Vance, plus it was streaming during Covid times, but I decided not to).

    I have been following Vance’s trumpification with some interest–we will see if he runs.

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  7. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    I generally enjoy memoirs, particularly well-written ones, which Vance’s is supposed to be, but I just had a strong feeling that this guy was a hypocrite and a phony right off the bat. He talks at one point about, during a formal dinner, having to call his girl friend in a panic and inquire which fork to use. He was at Yale at that point, and he hadn’t as yet encountered that information? A smart guy couldn’t figure out for himself that you work from the outside in? Come on, man.

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  8. Barry says:

    @Scott F.: “This post presents an interesting juxtaposition with James’ post today on culpability in the culture wars.

    As the entire GQP goes Trump and traitor, for some reason it’s not them who have gone extreme.

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  9. Sleeping Dog says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Similarly, we have too many politicians, on both right and left, who have forgotten what it means to in fact run a government.

    While there are exceptions, the current Minneapolis City Council comes to mind, the closer you get to local government the more focused on delivering the functions of government in an efficient effective manner, with minimal grandstanding is the rule. At the state level, legislatures can be a wild card, but again with exceptions, Noem, Abbott and DeSantis, governors focus on governing.

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  10. IdaHokie says:

    This and your many other articles on this topic illustrate why I (and a lot of other liberals, Democrats, independents, and moderates) have reluctantly decided to register Republican and vote in their primary starting next year here in Idaho. I live in very blue Boise. My state representatives are all Democrats and they are really good ones at that who are unlikely to lose a primary and win reelection by 60% of the vote or more. Our city officials are elected in nonpartisan elections, but are all Democrats. It took a lot of regret to do it, but I registered Republican so that I can vote for the least bad candidate in the primary, which will decide all of our statewide elections. It’s less effective for me to do it in Boise than someone in a redder area of the state, but I’m encouraging everyone I know to do the same here. The turnout in the Republican primary in 2018 was 7%. That 7% decided who are governor would be (thankfully Brad Little defeated Raul Labrador) and unfortunately elected lunatic Janice McGeachin lieutenant governor. She’s now running for governor (so is Ammon Bundy) and an equally awful candidate is running for lieutenant governor along with some others. So I will vote for Governor Little and the “moderates” in the primary and then turn around and vote Democratic in November next year. It’s a defensive measure.

    Idahoans are organizing to try to take back our state from the extremists. Unfortunately, I think the national GOP is going to kill our democracy regardless, but we have to try.

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  11. IdaHokie says:

    Check this out for those who are curious. The name is a play on the Idaho III%ers. Unfortunately, they are up against the extreme far right Idaho Freedom (Freedumb) Foundation, which are faux libertarians that are nothing of the sort. They are Idaho’s second party (although they fight for control of its first).

    https://www.theidaho97.org

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  12. Gustopher says:

    there’s hillbilly turned venture capitalist J. D. Vance

    Upper middle class hillbilly-cosplayer turned venture capitalist.

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  13. Gustopher says:

    Ohio, once a toss-up on the electoral map, is now firmly Republican; Trump won the state by eight points in 2016 and in 2020. Still, it’s not accustomed to the kind of medical-grade Trumpism that, say, Governor Ron DeSantis serves up in Florida—at least not yet.

    Will Ohio remain firmly Republican if the Trumpy Republicans are running at every level?

    I honestly have no idea what the tipping point is that people there will decide is over-reaching, but there must be one.

    Concentration camps? Failure to prioritize lower marginal tax rates for the wealthy over kicking trans kids?

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  14. Jay L Gischer says:

    I read Vance’s memoir. I come from a very small town myself, and it really felt pretty genuine and matched with my experiences, with one big difference. In my part of the country, violence and threats of violence are not the stuff of idle chatter. All my uncles used guns and would use them for home defense if needed, but they were never going to talk loud about it.

    But yeah, the stuff about forks speaks to anxiety about moving in a different, and “higher” circle. it seemed completely real to me. I still have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about the Eastern Establishment.

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  15. Jay L Gischer says:

    I feel that the open question here is whether Trump will be relevant four years from now or not. He doesn’t have Twitter, and there is a lot of stuff still to play out. It seems possible that people will slowly lose interest in him and fade away. He’s obviously scared of that.

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  16. senyordave says:

    @Jay L Gischer: I’d love to know who or what is the “Eastern Establishment”. And what makes them bad. Is it location only? Maybe a combination of location, political affiliation and religion? Is the classic New York liberal Jew representative of the eastern establishment?
    Is it the stereotype Harvard professor type who mythologizes Che and tears down the good old US of A every chance he gets?
    And I do have trouble envisioning a Vance as a Yale student in a panic because he doesn’t know what fork to use, but that may be because now that he’s all in on running as real Murican I do question anything he has said in the past.

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  17. Jay L Gischer says:

    It is the sort of thing that makes West Coast baseball scores not appear in the newspaper. It is the sort of thing that says the New York Times is the newspaper to read. I mean most of you do it, and I like y’all, but I hope to never subscribe to the NYT. I’m not from New York, why should I care?

    You remember that New Yorker cover that shows the “view of America” which is mostly New York and then “across the Hudson” is some stuff? That’s the thing that bugs me. It bugs me that we have trouble putting anyone on the Supreme Court that didn’t go to either Harvard or Yale Law. It bugs me that to get a job writing in NYC, you had to go to an Ivy. I’ve known many Ivy Leaguers at this point, and I like them. It’s not a slam on them, just on our cultural monomania.
    Not any of the things you mention. It’s a bit hard to put a name on, though.

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  18. senyordave says:

    @Jay L Gischer: I assume one of the main reasons to read the NYT is that is one of the few remaining American newspapers to have an actual foreign bureau.
    You remember that New Yorker cover that shows the “view of America” which is mostly New York and then “across the Hudson” is some stuff? Really – you mean the same type of map that almost every city in the country has and sells in their souvenir shops?
    It is the sort of thing that makes West Coast baseball scores not appear in the newspaper. Are you saying its because they don’t care about the West Coast? Or might it have something to do with timing as to when the newspaper goes to print. When I subscribed to the Washington Post I got the edition that did not have the West Coast scores (probably because I was in the suburbs and not the city), but I don’t seriously think it had anything to do with being dismissive of the West Coast.
    Many people in NYC think NYC is the center of the universe. Many people in cities and towns throughout the country think the same of where they live.
    So its real but you can’t even describe it. Sounds like a collection of some of your pet peeves and you are looking for a convenient target.
    I’m bugged by people who are racist, anti-semitic, use slurs about gay and trans people, complain about how immigrants are ruining the country, etc.. I know which subgroups of American are more likely to have these attitudes, but until I see that all of them are like that it seems ridiculous to whine about them.

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  19. Jay L Gischer says:

    @senyordave:

    No, I am protesting against a structure that privileges the East Coast in many ways. Yeah, I know all those reasons. I know what a time zone is. The New York Times is a very good newspaper, too. But so is the LA Times. And so on…

    And of course “whine” is pejorative in this case. You asked me a question, I answered it, and you referred to my complaint as “whining”.

    I’m not thrilled about that.

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  20. EddieInCA says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    And there is the rub… and it’s so… “American”.

    This isn’t a slam against you, but the mentality. “It doesn’t affect me personally right now, so why should I care?” Also, “Who cares what’s happening in New York? I’m in (insert flyover city here) and it don’t affect me.?”

    As many of you know, I grew up poor. Probably poorer than JD Vance, but my immigrant mother knew that she wanted better for my sister and I. So she taught us “What the high class people do.” That meant etiquette, languages, books, theatre, and, most of all, education.

    So I don’t get the mentality you shared above.

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  21. EddieInCA says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    Sorry Jay. No one is “privileging the East Coast”. As someone who spends alot of time on both coasts, I don’t see what you see at all. I feel there is bias towards news, businesses, and people. NYC just has more businesses, people and events.

    As of 2015, NYC has more people than 40 US States.
    As of 2015, 1 out of 40 US residents lived in NYC.

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  22. CSK says:
  23. Unsympathetic says:

    There is no “structure that benefits the East Coast.” That does not exist.
    This nonsensical twaddle is brought to you by the same liars peddling the assertions about “immigrants” ruining the country.

    First, the “structure,” if there is one, benefits the rich. Note, of course, that “the rich” includes those who live in Ohio.. such as Les Wexner.

    Second, the construct of “rich” intentionally includes both parties.. and has nothing to do with geography. Putting coast vs. the OH out there is a deliberate obfuscation of the conscious state policy choices such as ridiculously low statewide investment in infrastructure which benefits those rich through lower taxes.

    But hey, that Ohio State campus police MRAP is definitely needed to escort students to their 8am lectures, so everything is fine.

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  24. @Jay L Gischer:

    I feel that the open question here is whether Trump will be relevant four years from now or not.

    Not to be too simplistic: but it depends on how much heft he is able to show during the 2022 mid-terms. The timing of the mid-terms meant that there was no time to allow him to fade.

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