Last night I began getting into the Ohio Republican Senate primary and before I knew it, the post turned into a Pennsylvania GOP civil war. Tuesday the Ohio primary finishes up and I'll keep it focused on that along... although let me just reiterate that there is an excellent candidate running on the Democratic ballot-- Morgan Harper. The incompetent Ohio Democratic Party, which only knows how to lose elections, has undermined her campaign and endorsed a dull and meaningless careerist candidate, Tim Ryan, who has no chance to win regardless to which neo-Nazi sociopath the Republicans put up. It's a close contest right now, with all 5 candidates trying to claim the extreme right. If the ohio Democratic Party had a functioning brain cell, they could win this. But they don't and they won't.
Yesterday, Jonathan Weisman and Trip Gabriel teamed up for a late in the game report on what has happened to the Ohio Republican Party. (The Ohio Democratic Party is so moribund that isn't worth writing about.) As Weisman and Gabriel noted in their piece, the Republicans in the race to replace, Rob Portman, "appear determined to bury the soft-spoken country-club bonhomie that was once a hallmark of the party in this state, and replace it with the pugilistic brand of conservatism owned by Donald J. Trump and now amplified by the new band of Buckeye bomb throwers." What happened to the dull as dishwater GOP (and why did the Democratic Party-- once a real force in teh state-- opt for the dullness instead?
Ohio used to be known for the quiet conservatism of the state’s celebrated former senator George Voinovich and its current governor, Mike DeWine; for the Merlot-swilling happy-warrior days of the former House speaker John Boehner; for the moderation of John Kasich, a two-term governor; and for the free-trade, free-market ideology of Portman himself.
Instead, affections for such Ohio leaders are now being weaponized-- in broadsides from the candidates and advertisements by their allies-- as evidence that rivals are paying only lip service to Trump and his angry populism.
“Josh Mandel: Another failed career politician squish,” a new ad from a super PAC supporting Mr. Vance blared on Ohio television sets on Friday, calling Mr. Mandel, who is mounting his third Senate run, a “two-time loser” and “a moderate for the moderates.”
After so much vitriol, Ohio’s primary will begin to shed light on just how much power the former president can still wield from his exile. But in the final days of campaigning, the leading contenders left no doubt about his ideological hold on the party.
At an evangelical church near Dayton on Friday, Mandel campaigned with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who sought to blunt the impact of Trump’s endorsement of Vance two weeks ago. “At the end of the day, it’s not going to come down to who endorsed whom,” Cruz said before he and Mandel brought an older crowd to its feet with stem-winding paeans to conservatism and criticism of Democrats.
...Vance, for his part, pressed his attack on Mandel, who had vied for the former president’s endorsement with ads calling himself “pro-God, pro-gun, pro-Trump.” Vance’s spokeswoman, Taylor Van Kirk, called Mandel “a phony, fraud and sellout, who claims to be ‘anti-establishment’ in public, but throws President Trump and the entire MAGA movement under the bus to the establishment behind closed doors.”
In turn, the one Republican who has said the party needs to move on from the former president, State Senator Matt Dolan, castigated Vance for bringing members of the party’s extremist wing, Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Matt Gaetz of Florida, into the state on Saturday-- not because of their extreme positions, but because they are “outsiders” who are “telling Ohioans how they should vote.”
In the rush to the right, Gibbons, who had styled himself a businessman in Trump’s mold and was once the front-runner in the Senate contest, pledged his fealty to a right-wing movement, called the Convention of States, to rewrite the Constitution to restrain federal power.
All of the major candidates in the Republican Senate primary have insisted they are the true conservatives in the race, but only one, Vance, has the official imprimatur of the former president. That means the judgment that Republican voters render on Tuesday will go a long way to show whether even conservative candidates like Mandel and Gibbons can overcome a cold shoulder from Mar-a-Lago.
Also writing for The Times yesterday, Ross Douthat devoted his column to the return of the Republican civil war, in the Ohio primary. He wrote that "Six years ago, under the pressure of Donald Trump’s insurgency, the G.O.P. split into three factions. First was the party establishment, trying to sustain a business-friendly and internationalist agenda and an institutionalist approach to governance. This was the faction of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, much the party’s Washington D.C. leadership-- but fewer of its media organs and activists. Those groups mostly supported the more movement-driven, True Conservative faction-- the faction of Ted Cruz, the Tea Party, the House Freedom Caucus, talk radio. This faction was more libertarian and combative, and richer in grassroots support-- but not as rich as it thought. That’s because Trump himself forged a third faction, pulling together a mixture of populists and paleoconservatives, disaffected voters who didn’t share True Conservatism’s litmus tests and pugilists who just wanted someone to fight liberal cultural dominance, with no agenda beyond the fight itself... [I]n the Ohio Senate primary, finally, you can see the divisions clearly once again."
First you have a candidate, Matt Dolan, who is fully in the establishment lane, explicitly refusing to court Trumpian favor and trying to use the Russian invasion of Ukraine to peel Republicans away from the America First banner.
You have a candidate in the TrueCon lane, the adaptable Josh Mandel, who tried to hug Trump personally but who draws his support from the old powers of movement conservatism-- from the Club for Growth to talk radio’s Mark Levin to the political consultancy that runs Ted Cruz’s campaigns.
And you have J.D. Vance, who is very clear about trying to be a populist in full-- taking the Trump-in-2016 line on trade and immigration and foreign policy, allying himself with thinkers and funders who want a full break with the pre-Trump GOP.
Given this division, it’s significant that Trump decided to endorse Vance, and that his most politically active scion, Donald Jr., is enthusiastic for the Hillbilly Elegy author. It’s also significant that Trump’s endorsement hasn’t prevented the Club for Growth from continuing to throw money against Vance, prompting blowback from Trump himself. For the first time since 2016, there’s a clear line not just between Trump and the establishment but between Trumpian populism and movement conservatism.
...[T]he battle for Ohio suggests things to look for in 2022 and beyond. First, expect a Trump revival to be more like his 2016 insurgent-populist campaign than his incumbent run in 2020. Second, expect populism writ large to gain some strength and substance but still remain bound to Trump’s obsessions (and appetite for constitutional crisis).
Third, expect many of the movement and TrueCon figures who made their peace with Trump six years ago to be all-in for Ron DeSantis should he seem remotely viable. Fourth, expect the remains of the establishment to divide over whether to rally around a candidate of anti-Trump principle-- from Liz Cheney to certain incarnations of Mike Pence-- or to make their peace with a harder-edged figure like DeSantis.
Finally, expect a potential second Trump presidency to resemble the scramble for his endorsement in Ohio: the establishment left out in the cold, no Reince Priebus running the White House or McConnell setting its agenda, but just constant policy battles between movement conservatives and populists, each claiming to embody the true and only Trumpism and hoping that the boss agrees.