Politics & Policy

The Corner

Battleground Ohio and the GOP’s Politics of Subtraction

Quinnipiac reports that Clinton holds a slight lead in Ohio. It’s the first Ohio poll in more than two weeks but is in line with a handful of such polls conducted last month.

No poll tells us the direction that particular cities, towns, or counties there are leaning in, but we can guess. In Ohio as in other states, population density and party identification correlate: The more sparsely populated an area is, the more Republican it tends to be. A Republican in a statewide race in Ohio typically loses the metropolitan areas, although they should provide a hefty chunk of his total vote. They comprise about half of the state’s electorate, after all. He can hardly afford to write them off.

Slightly more than half of Romney’s 2,593,779 votes in Ohio came from the three Cs — Cleveland (Cuyahoga County), Columbus (Franklin), Cincinnati (Hamilton) — and the suburban and exurban counties adjacent to them. Those three core counties alone gave him 22.4 percent of his vote; most of that came from the suburbs within the county lines.

The rural counties in central and western Ohio have long been solidly Republican. The state’s rustiest Rust Belt counties, in eastern Ohio, along the borders of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, used to be reliably Democratic. South of Mahoning County (Youngstown), they went for Romney in 2012. (Athens County, a college-town area in southern Ohio, was the lone dot of blue in that stretch of red.)

In 2016, the common wisdom is that Trump is turning those Rust Belt counties a darker shade of red and might even swing Mahoning County into the Republican column. If both the common wisdom and the pollsters are correct, Clinton must be beating Trump in the three Cs harder than Obama beat Romney there. Romney lost the state by 103,000 votes.

Polling in the neighboring state of Pennsylvania, which is demographically similar, corroborates the impression that Trump is tanking in the suburbs in Ohio. It appears that Trump in Ohio is not so much adding the votes of disaffected working-class whites as he is swapping them in for votes he is swapping out: those of suburbanites who, depending on your point of view, are either abandoning the Republican party or being chased from it by the current presidential nominee and the national party leadership. Trump’s public feud with Governor John Kasich, the most popular Republican in Ohio, has alienated much of the state’s Republican rank and file as well as leadership, as if the goal were a radical makeover of the party even at the cost of shrinking it.

For every ten votes that Trump gains in Youngstown, how many is he losing in Brecksville? Or in Bay Village, a white-picket-fence suburb in the northwest corner of Cuyahoga County, on Lake Erie, about 15 miles west of Cleveland? Bay Village voted for Romney over Obama, 52–47. Michael L. Lieber, a GOP official there, tells me that in October 2012 he called every registered Republican in town. He planted 200 Romney signs, “from the Cuyahoga County line on the west to the border with Rocky River on the east. This year, I won’t even be voting for our nominee, let alone lifting a finger to help.”

Lieber, who backed Rubio in the primary, says he would have supported any Republican candidate as the party’s nominee — except Trump, who “represents the antithesis of everything I stand for.” He’s “not conservative” and “not electable.”

It’s hard to say how many others I speak for. I’ve talked to a high-ranking elected official who shares my horror and disgust but is lying low (as almost all seem to be) and watching with sadness, horror, and a sense of helpless resignation. I’m not aware of any local elected officials or candidates who are all-in for Trump. Most seem to be focusing on local races and just trying to survive the coming electoral bloodbath and avoid the Trump stain.

Lieber belongs to no “GOP establishment” or “donor class.” He’s a politically engaged middle-class suburbanite who once concluded that the Republican party spoke for him. Now he concludes that it doesn’t, the new face and voice of the party being Trump. The Republican-party platform may still be strong (never mind that Ukraine plank), but the platform is not on the ballot.

In the Reformicon vision, an honest appeal to the economic interests of working-class Americans was to be built onto, and integrated into, pre-existing conservative principles relating to limited government (though good luck trying to reduce or eliminate an entitlement once it’s been established) and the preservation of basic Judeo-Christian mores and standards of decency. Trumpism is shaping up to be not an expansion of traditional conservatism but a demolition of it, to make room for a nationalist-populist party in the spirit of the European Right. Some new voters may be flocking to the GOP. More, though, appear to be fleeing or at least temporarily shunning it.

“When I became GOP city captain [in 2010], I instituted a small Bay Village Republicans annual scholarship at the local high school,” Lieber writes. “The hope was to, in some symbolic way, counter the stereotype that Republicans are heartless, angry, old white men. The nomination of Trump undoes everything that the scholarship was trying to do, and so I will be discontinuing it.”

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