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“Portman's [endorsement of Trump] was worse. He has a tough re-election race this fall. He suspected he could not afford to alienate Trump's white working-class fans in Ohio. So he decided to endorse. It all seems so uncharacteristically cynical of the mild-mannered Portman, who has very little in common with the brazen Trump”
“If he weren't fighting for his political survival this fall, Portman is the kind of guy you would expect to be shaming Trump for his racially charged rhetoric and unscrupulous behavior. You might expect so regardless.”
“And unlike Rob Portman, his successor in the Senate, Voinovich had no self-serving reasons to remain silent.”
Donald Trump leads the Republican Party down a troubling, fateful path to Cleveland: Analysis
Cleveland.com, Henry J. Gomez
July 11, 2016
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Cleveland was supposed to represent a new frontier for Republicans.
Instead, it might well be where the party goes to die.
The GOP convention opens here in one week, poised to nominate Donald Trump for president. But so much of what the New York real estate mogul says and does is objectionable.
He indulges and inflames the worst impulses of an angry electorate. He speaks of Mexicans with condescension and contempt. He seems determined to find a way to block every Muslim from entering the country. He defends his team's use of anti-Semitic imagery.
He has mocked Arizona Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam veteran who claimed this same party's nomination eight years ago, for being captured during combat. He has praised Saddam Hussein, the late Iraqi despot, for killing some fellow terrorists among his many victims.
Then there was the time Trump suggested a black protester deserved the beating he received from white supporters at a campaign rally. That moment came to mind Friday. Responding to two fatal police shootings of black men and a deadly attack on police officers in Dallas, Trump released a statement lamenting that racial tensions "have gotten worse, not better."
Of course they have. Thanks in part to Donald Trump.
None of this has mattered, though. More than 13 million rank-and-file primary voters backed Trump, picking him out of a crowded lineup composed largely of career politicians. Now, the Republicans in the best position to lead seem more comfortable following the herd.
"It's one step closer to the iceberg," GOP consultant John Weaver, who was the chief strategist on Ohio Gov. John Kasich's unsuccessful White House bid, told me this month. "The party is going to be completely fractured and splintered. Can it be put back together? Yeah.
"But it won't be the same."
A campaign that makes you nostalgic for Mitt Romney
This is a puzzling notion when you think back to where Republicans were four years ago.
They lost in 2012 with Mitt Romney, a rich guy who clumsily talked of how he enjoyed firing people and, in so many words,dismissed 47 percent of voters as losers. Months of soul-searching followed. Pretty much everyone agreed on a kinder, gentler, more-inclusive approach.
So the answer is Trump? A rich guy who fired people on his own reality TV show?
Who gleefully bestows the "loser" label on anyone who dares to cross him?
Who reminds you of the racist uncle at Thanksgiving dinner?
To say it wasn't supposed to be this way is an understatement. One reason Republicans chose to hold their convention in Cleveland: To show they had found their soul.
This is an overwhelmingly Democratic city where Romney failed to win a single vote in nine precincts. It sits in an overwhelmingly Democratic county where even an expansive corruption scandal that sent the party boss to jail could not upset the balance of power.
The Republicans who have been successful here in recent years – there haven't been many – have followed the example of George Voinovich, the former Ohio governor and U.S. senator and the last Republican mayor of Cleveland. Voinovich, who died last month, was known for reaching across the aisle and avoiding the most divisive social and cultural issues.
Consider Cuyahoga County GOP Chairman Rob Frost. When Cleveland hosted the Gay Games in 2014, he set up a booth there. He has made minority outreach a priority. This convention should be the capstone of his career. Now he's in the awkward position of hosting Trump.
Remember when Marco Rubio was the future?
After Romney's loss, many other Republicans took the party's kinder purpose to heart.
We saw Florida Sen. Marco Rubio become the face of immigration reform. We saw Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, encouraged by a gay son, come out in favor of same-sex marriage. And we saw Kasich, once a Tea Party firebrand, repackage himself as a compassionate conservative.
Rubio was the first to crack. He wanted to run for president and abandoned the immigration fight once it became clear it wouldn't help him with the party's grassroots activists. Rather than try and beat Trump with ideas – in fairness, it's unlikely anyone could – he engaged Trump in childish attacks. His subsequent endorsement of Trump was hardly a profile in courage.
Portman's was worse. He has a tough re-election race this fall. He suspected he could not afford to alienate Trump's white working-class fans in Ohio. So he decided to endorse. It all seems so uncharacteristically cynical of the mild-mannered Portman, who has very little in common with the brazen Trump.
Yes, Portman remains an outspoken champion of marriage equality. And he offers polite disagreements when Trump goes too far – which is often. But if he weren't fighting for his political survival this fall, Portman is the kind of guy you would expect to be shaming Trump for his racially charged rhetoric and unscrupulous behavior. You might expect so regardless.
Kasich is a rare holdout. He refuses to endorse Trump, even if it costs him a speaking role at the convention his state is hosting. His nice-guy image didn't work in the presidential primaries, but Kasich is banking that he will emerge from 2016 as the nation's most likable politician.
As for Romney, he is now a vocal Trump critic and wrestled with whether to stage another run for president this year. But the former Massachusetts governor, who made a spectacle out of accepting Trump's endorsement in 2012, also bears some blame for his rise as a political figure.
'The best thing about him winning will be that she loses'
Plenty of Republicans who can't bring themselves to dump Trump are just as worried about the future. They will bite their tongues and hold their noses for the next four months, motivated by their hatred of Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president.
They got a little boost last week when FBI Director James Comey blasted Clinton for "extremely careless" handling of classified information while serving as secretary of state.
They would have preferred an indictment.
Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges, a Kasich ally, showed up at a Trump rally in Columbus last November to scold the businessman for his offensive antics. Now Borges is fielding regular calls from Trump and helping him assemble a credible ground game in the Buckeye State. But it is almost impossible to draw even the faintest praise of Trump from the chairman's mouth.
"The best thing about him winning will be that she loses," Borges told me in May.
Now there's a bumper sticker.
Borges is holding on for Portman's sake, much like House Speaker Paul Ryan, the highest-ranking Republican in the country, is holding on for his caucus' sake. A Clinton blowout this fall could have down-ticket ramifications and cost the GOP its majorities in Congress.
Ryan, who was Romney's vice presidential running mate four years ago, is pushing a set of policy ideas, with fighting poverty one of the main goals. The agenda is not at odds with Trump's, but it conveys a much different tone while offering a substance Trump lacks.
"What you're going to see is statesmen like Governor Romney sit it out and watch it happen," said Ryan Williams, a Republican consultant who served as a deputy national press secretary for the Romney-Ryan campaign four years ago. "You'll see others like Speaker Ryan begrudgingly support the nominee. I think it's pretty clear that Trump wasn't his choice."
How will this hostile takeover end?
The irony for Republicans is that Trump is not one of them.
He is campaigning as a protectionist on trade, never mind his own international business endeavors. His record on abortion has been all over the place – a fact that gives many conservatives pause in an election where the future of the Supreme Court is at stake.
What Trump is selling is not Republicanism. It's nationalism and racism and xenophobia, passed off as populism – a term far more charitable than the Trump movement deserves.
Whether Trump believes any of this doesn't matter. It has gotten him this far.
And that's why most Republicans are treading lightly. It's why they are feigning loyalty to Trump and not busying themselves with a last-ditch effort to block his nomination in Cleveland. They don't believe it's their place to go against the wishes of so many millions of voters.
In many ways this amounts to a hostile takeover of the Republican Party.
"The truth is, the party is going to come out of the convention bigger than it's ever been," Barry Bennett, a GOP consultant who has served as an informal Trump adviser, told me last week.
Bennett, an Ohio native, points to Mahoning County and Youngstown, which, like Cleveland, is a heavily Democratic city. The Republican voting rolls in the county swelled by 21,000 in the March primary – a rise attributed in part to Trump's appeal among blue-collar workers frustrated with the economy.
As for Trump's tirades against Mexicans, Bennett sees no damage. "The notion that the Hispanic vote is monolithic is just not true," he said. "You've got people who go to mass every day. Tons and tons of small businessmen. And then you've got some left-wingers who love to protest."
Weaver, the Kasich strategist, worries about long-term damage. He predicted a 2018 midterm campaign populated by "mini-Trumps who try to emulate him in their congressional and Senate races. It will be 'Night of the Living Dead' trying to snuff those people out."
Then Weaver returned to his Titanic analogy.
"When I look at the convention," he said, "I feel like you're going back in time and seeing people excitedly getting on the White Star Line trip. And you know the outcome."
In his final days, George Voinovich worried about this.
Cleveland's most successful Republican – the man who set the tone for Matt Borges and Rob Frost and John Kasich – was one of Trump's most outspoken critics. And unlike Rob Portman, his successor in the Senate, Voinovich had no self-serving reasons to remain silent.
"Donald Trump's rhetoric has been egomaniacal, inflammatory, and divisive," he said last November before a Trump visit to Columbus. "It is not what America needs."
Voinovich had planned to attend next week's convention as a Kasich delegate and, in a classy tribute, had been tapped as a second choice for Ohio delegates pledged to the governor. "I can't understand why the establishment of this party didn't go for John ... shame on them for being for so stupid," Voinovich told the Columbus Dispatch a month before his unexpected death.
Trump is brash and crude. Voinovich was humble and decent – a Cleveland Republican. The kind of Republican that national Republicans supposedly wanted to rally around in 2016.
The GOP lost Voinovich in June.
With Donald Trump as its leader, the party now stands to lose its mind, body and soul.
For Immediate Release: July 12, 2016
Contact: David Bergstein or Liz Margolis, press@TedStrickland.com