Commentary: Does Trump Do More Good For Republicans Or Dems By Campaigning In Ohio?

Aug 29, 2018

If you were in charge of the Ohio Republican Party, would you want President Trump to come back to the Buckeye State again and again before the November election, as he did last Friday night at the Ohio Republican Party's annual dinner in Columbus?

Or would you just as soon see Trump, who can be something of a bull in a china shop, stay away and tweet from afar as you try to keep control of state offices and Ohio's congressional delegation?

On the other hand, if you were the head of the Democratic Party in Ohio would you want Trump to stay away or take up residence here through the November 6 election?

"I think if you put (Ohio Democratic Party chairman) David Pepper in charge of Trump's schedule, then you would see an awful lot of him in Ohio,'' said David Niven, assistant professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati.

Likewise, Mark R. Weaver, a long-time Republican political consultant in Ohio, says there is no such thing as too much Trump for the Ohio GOP.

"The far left of the Democratic Party is triggered by seeing Trump like waving a red cape in front of a bull,'' Weaver said. "Republican base voters who might not even vote in a non-presidential election might be motivated to vote in this one by Trump's presence."

Democrats in Ohio were scoffing when they heard that Trump, in front of about 2,000 Ohio Republicans at the state dinner, cast doubt on the Democrats' much ballyhooed "Blue Wave" they believe will sweep the Democratic Party back into power in Congress

"I hear about a blue wave,'' Trump said. "I say, why is there a blue wave? We are doing better with jobs – today there are more people working than at any time in the history of our country. So, I don't think there is going to be a blue wave. I hope there's a red wave."  

So, does Trump help Republicans like Senate candidate Jim Renacci and gubernatorial candidate Mike DeWine?

Or does his presence here help fire up Democratic voters to elect their candidates, Richard Cordray for governor and incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown?

Reminds me of a story about the 36th president of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson.

In 1966, Johnson's approval rating was going down while his disapproval rating was rising.

One day, he called a meeting of Democratic congressional candidates into the White House to talk re-election. Johnson knew he could be a liability to some of the congressmen in that room and a help to others.

The president's advice, it is said, went something like this:

Boys, I've got this great big airplane and it will take me anywhere I want to go. Now, if you think I could help you get re-elected, just say the word and I will land that big ol' plane right in the middle of your district.

But if you think having me around would hurt your chances, tell me that too – and I'll just make sure they fly that plane clean over your district.

Say what you like about LBJ, but he knew what worked in campaigns and what didn't.

Not so sure one could say the same about the 45th president of the United States – even though he came out of the world of high finance and a rather pointless "reality" TV show in which The Donald mentally tortured "apprentices" and then fired them one by one.

Sounds sort of like the White House staff, does it not?

Trump knew how to get himself elected (with the help of a rather undisciplined and curiously inept campaign on behalf of Hillary Clinton).

But it remains to be seen if he knows how to get others elected.

Look at this recent special election in central Ohio's 12th Congressional District where Republican Troy Balderson of Zanesville was running against Democrat Danny O'Connor of Columbus for a few months of the unexpired term of Republican Pat Tiberi, who resigned earlier this year to become head of the Ohio Business Roundtable.

Every political reporter and pundit in the nation was focused like a laser on the battle in this rather obscure district that had been in Republican hands for the better part of 40 years.

Trump showed up in OH-12 just a few days before the August 7 primary to tout Balderson and denigrate O'Connor and every other Democrat he could think of.

It's a very Republican, very conservative district. Trump won it in 2016 by 11 percentage points.

But when OH-12 voters went to the polls, the race was so close it took nearly three weeks to determine a winner because every provisional and overseas ballot had to be counted.

Balderson ended up winning, but by less than one percentage point.

Balderson had tied his fate to Trump and finished about 10 percentage points behind him.

Despite losing the seat, Democrats in Washington, Columbus and elsewhere were celebrating a "loss" that gave them a lot of hope for many Democratic congressional candidates in districts that Trump won two years ago. One of them is right here in southwest Ohio – OH-1, where veteran Republican Steve Chabot is being chased by Democrat Aftab Pureval, in a race that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has added to its list of "Red to Blue" targeted districts.

Republican consultant Weaver said he is convinced the less-than-one-percent victory by Balderson is a fluke, produced by the fact that it was the only congressional race going on at the time.

"In OH-12, the Democrats had all the peanut butter spread on one cracker,'' said Weaver. "In November, they are going to have to spread that peanut butter on crackers in districts in every state in the nation.

"I think in November,'' Weaver said, "that district will, as they say, 'revert to the mean' and Balderson will win easily."

UC's Niven says there is no question in his mind that the more Ohio voters – particularly independents and that minority of Republicans who don't like Trump – see of the president campaigning for GOP candidates in their state between now and November, the worse it will be for the Republicans.

"A Trump visit fires up his core crowd, but it twists a lot of Ohio Republicans – including their candidates – into knots,'' Niven said.

"For Democrats, it's all upside,'' he continued. "Every Trump visit to Ohio reminds peripheral voters what's at stake in the midterm election and serves as a cudgel for activists to get them knocking on more doors, working even harder."

"There's a good reason why presidents with underwater popularity have tended to lay low in midterms,'' Niven said. "They follow the political Hippocratic Oath – first, do no harm to your party."

In other words, for every Republican fired up by a Trump visit to Ohio, there is at least one – and maybe more – Democrats who are fired up by him as well. 

Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

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