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2020 is looking to be a pivotal year in politics. But this year's elections are about much more than the race for the White House. And the coronavirus pandemic is proving to be a complicating factor. WKSU, our colleagues at public radio stations across Ohio and the region and at NPR will bring you coverage of all the races from the national to the local level.

Commentary: DeWine, Portman and the Wrath Of Trump

President Donald Trump at a campaign rally at U.S. Bank in 2019.
John Minchillo
/
AP
President Donald Trump waves to a crowd featuring from right, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, then-Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), at a campaign rally at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati Aug. 1, 2019.

The wrath of Donald Trump is something fearsome to behold.

Especially when one of his fellow Republicans tries to burst the bubble of the fictional scenario inside his head that tells him he somehow won re-election and will be sworn into office for a second term Jan. 20.

Wrath so awesome it can make grown Republican officeholders quake in fear and scramble to reassure him that Joe Biden is not the president-elect.

Ohio's two highest ranking Republican elected officials, Gov. Mike DeWine and Sen. Rob Portman, are both in danger of feeling the wrath of Trump, but are reacting in wholly different ways: DeWine seemingly letting it roll off his back. Portman, not so much.

Unlike Portman, DeWine has already had a direct dose of what it means when you disturb the Trumpian fantasy that he won the election.

Last Sunday, DeWine appeared on CNN and uttered what amounts to apostasy in Trump World. He said that Biden won the election, even though he said that Trump has "every right" to bring legal challenges contesting election results in key states.

"I think we need to consider the former vice president as the president-elect,'' DeWine said.

Thirteen words from the mouth of DeWine that clearly stuck in the craw of Trump.

The next morning Trump was on Twitter (where else?) and issued a veiled threat in the direction of the Ohio governor.


"Who will be running for governor in the great state of Ohio? Will be hotly contested!"

Everyone in politics in Ohio, Republican and Democratic, knew exactly what the president meant by that seemingly cryptic comment—that DeWine was in Trump's doghouse and the soon-to-be ex-president would have a candidate more to his liking to run against the governor in the 2022 GOP primary.

And, lo and behold, he won't have to look far.

There's one in Wadsworth just chafing at the bit for the chance to take DeWine on: former congressman Jim Renacci, a through-and-through Trump loyalist if there ever was one.

Renacci ran against Ohio's senior senator, Democrat Sherrod Brown, in 2018. He lost, but he did well enough to continue to be a viable candidate for statewide office in the future.

Clearly, he has set his sights on DeWine. Renacci has produced a tweetstorm in recent weeks in which he has been highly critical of DeWine's handling of the coronavirus crisis, saying DeWine has been "crippling small business," is "an existential threat to Ohio's restaurants," and saying that the rule should be "open up Ohio and ditch DeWine."

After DeWine's appearance on CNN, Renacci went over the deep end and pulled out the worst insult possible in the eyes of Trump voters: "DeWine is on the side of the mainstream media" in calling Biden president-elect."

DeWine has mostly kept silent on the presidential tweet, and certainly on Renacci, except to point out that he was the co-chair of Trump's Ohio re-election campaign, a state Trump won by eight percentage points.

And DeWine, who raised a record $36.5 million for his 2018 campaign for governor, will have plenty of campaign cash to throw at any primary challenge. It would be hard to bet against him.

Still, being a Republican elected official on Trump's bad side is an uncomfortable place to be.

Unlike DeWine, Portman has yet to feel the sting of the wrath of Trump mainly because he, like most of his GOP Senate colleagues, has kept his trap shut on whether or not Biden won the election.

Earlier this week, in a call with Ohio reporters, Portman said Biden is leading in enough states to win, but he refused to call Biden "president-elect."

Here's what he did say:

"If you care about keeping the country moving forward together, I think it's very important at the end of the process you have the maximum number of people possible thinking this was legitimate and that the new president is legitimate," he said.

OK, guess that will have to do for now.

Like DeWine, Portman faces re-election in 2022. The unspoken fear is that if Portman said something that set Trump off, such as acknowledging the reality that Biden won the election, he, too, might find himself with a primary opponent loyal to Trump and popular with the MAGA crowd.

That would likely be Congressman Jim Jordan, a Trump ally with a reputation as an ultra-conservative attack dog. Could he put together enough Trump voters to defeat Portman in a Republican primary?

Portman has no desire to find out. Hence the silence on Trump's post-election quest to reverse the outcome of the election, a quest doomed to failure.

Maybe the junior senator from Ohio will feel free to speak up when he sees the moving vans pull up to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and start hauling Donald's stuff out of the White House.

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Jim Nolan

  Read more "Politically Speaking" here. 
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