In the torrent that is the candidacy of Donald Trump ahead of the Republican National Convention, there is a calm of red among GOP leaders in the four-county region.
With the announcement that Trump has selected Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate, Republicans converging on Cleveland for the party’s 2016 national convention now know the team they’re expected to nominate to lead them into November.
Trump, though, remains dogged by high negative poll numbers and a money deficit compared with Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee. Even within the GOP, anti-Trump sentiment remains strong, and many high-profile Republicans have said they’ll take a pass at this year’s convention.
Prominent among them is Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Trump’s former primary rival, who, as the sitting Republican governor of the host state, would normally strike a high profile at a national convention.
Among the Trump-related concerns of some party strategists are that he doesn’t truly support the conservative beliefs being assembled in the party platform and that the polarizing effect of the outspoken New York businessman will hurt down-ticket GOP candidates.
While the convention may be in Ohio’s northeast corner, its southwest corner is the GOP stronghold. In Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren counties, Republicans hold 11 of 13 state house seats, four of five state senate seats and all three U.S. House seats. WCPO asked several Southwest Ohio Republican officeholders if they were supporting Donald Trump.
The answer, in a word, is yes.
“Yes” comes in many degrees, but the officials agreed that the overarching implications of the 2016 election are far too important to allow any policy differences they have with Trump to hinder their effort to defeat Clinton, the former senator and secretary of state.
“I’ve never had a problem with him,” state Rep. Tom Brinkman said of Trump. Brinkman, whose 27th District covers much of eastern Hamilton County, called Trump an “equal opportunity offender” with whom he may agree on specifics only about half the time.
Compared to Clinton, though, there’s no contest. “She takes care of her cronies,” he said. “She’s corrupt, bought and paid for.” Brinkman sounded the party line that a Clinton presidency would be the equivalent of a third Obama term.
Brinkman was originally a Sen. Rand Paul backer. Despite Paul’s libertarian leanings, Brinkman said he was not considering voting for the Libertarian ticket of two former governors, Gary Johnson of New Mexico and Bill Weld of Massachusetts. It would split the conservative vote, he said. “A vote for the Libertarians is a vote for Hillary.”
Louis Blessing III, whose 29th Ohio House District covers most of western Hamilton County, agreed with the gist of Brinkman’s position. His chief concern with the 2016 election is the likely opportunity for the next president to nominate up to three justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. “That will affect us for a generation,” Blessing said.
Supreme Court nominees must also secure confirmation by the U.S. Senate, which for now is controlled by Republicans.
“I’m working hard to advance policies in Congress that Hillary Clinton would work hard to destroy. She will add regulations that hurt American workers, families and businesses, and I believe her foreign policy will take us in the wrong direction.”
— Brad Wenstrup
While he is concerned by some of Trump’s statements, particularly regarding immigrants and immigration policy, he said the suggestion by some not to worry if Clinton is elected this year, then come back with a stronger, more unifying Republican candidate in 2020, isn’t reasonable.
“They say it’s only four years,” he said, but he believes that grossly underestimates the damage to the country a Clinton presidency could do. “A president can do a lot in four years,” he said.
Hamilton County’s two Republican commissioners are both supporting Trump — “That’s a thumbs up,” Dennis Deters’ office said — as is the county’s GOP chairman, Alex Triantafilou. The two Republicans on Cincinnati City Council, Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn, also are likely to support Trump. Murray has already said she will.
Winburn can’t vote for Trump, at least on the convention’s first ballot: He’s a bound delegate for Kasich. “If at some point during the voting process I’m no longer bound to Gov. Kasich, I intend on taking his leadership and direction into account when casting my vote for another candidate,” he said through his office at City Hall.
At higher levels, GOP officials have closed ranks around the presumptive presidential nominee. That includes Sen. Rob Portman, who is in a high-profile campaign fight with Ted Strickland, the former Ohio governor and U.S. representative, and Cincinnati’s two U.S. representatives, Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup.
“This election is critically important to our nation's future,” Chabot said through his offices. “The fate of Obamacare, the balance on the Supreme Court, and our security and standing around the world all hang in the balance.
“In my opinion, Donald Trump’s approach to these important issues is far superior to Hillary Clinton’s. And therefore, I think he is the better choice for our next president.”
Wenstrup echoed that and added: “I’m working hard to advance policies in Congress that Hillary Clinton would work hard to destroy. She will add regulations that hurt American workers, families and businesses, and I believe her foreign policy will take us in the wrong direction.”
He said he expects that Trump, as president, would embrace the “positive agenda” he hopes will sprout from a GOP-led House of Representatives.
Wenstrup will attend the convention, although not in an official capacity. Many other officials will not, but they’re not staying home to make a political statement.
Brinkman said that, like the Super Bowl, “The best seat is at home in front of the TV.”
Blessing said that, with the convention in his own state, he definitely looked into attending. He decided the cost wasn’t worth it. “Admission is $1,500,” he said, “so it would take $3,000 for my wife and me to attend.”
It’s legal and normal for campaign funds to cover those costs, but, he said, “that’s most of the cost of a direct mailer (for an Ohio House campaign). I just decided that money would be better spent helping other (state-level) Republican candidates.”
WCPO's Amanda Seitz contributed.
Follow Thomas Consolo on Twitter: @tconsolo_news.