Clermont County is, of course, part of a larger state and nation. What happens on the state and national levels impacts us. I want to focus on an “upstream” development that will impact us greatly. Regrettably, we have not yet reached the point where I can write one of these pieces without using that synonym for evil: “trump. ”
The big recent news, of course, is Spineless Rob Portman’s announcement that he will not run for re-election to the U.S. Senate next year. Portman has spent decades in high Federal positions (Congress, U.S. Trade Rep., Director of OMB, U.S. Senate). Whatever persuaded him to walk away from that power and status after all these years must have been compelling. I think Portman expects the 2022 Republican primary to be a contest about past and future loyalty to trump, and I think Portman’s expectation is correct. Several polls have come out recently finding that many Republicans surveyed (usually around 60-65%) say that, if trump starts a new party, they will leave the Republican Party and join it.
trump is, probably, smart enough not to seriously try to start a third party. Except, occasionally, on very local levels (think Cincinnati’s Charter Party), the history of third parties in the U.S. is one of abject failure. That does not mean, though, that the Republican Party can stop pandering to trump. We know trump is vengeful. If he chooses to boycott the Republican Party and takes even a quarter of Republican voters with him, that likely means defeat for Republicans in states like Ohio where the statewide vote currently splits about 55-45 Republican/Democrat.
On the other hand, we have recently seen national Republican leaders like Liz Cheney and Ben Sasse publicly say that their party must move past trump. We know that there are more moderate Republicans who are turned off by trump’s incitement of the attack on the U.S. Capitol, his affinity for groups like the Proud Boys, and his pardons for his grifter friends. News reports show several states, like Arizona, where unusually large numbers of voters have renounced their Republican registrations since January 6, even though there is no election impending. This suggests a split developing in the Republican Party, whether it becomes formal or not.
I think we will see that cleavage in Ohio. Rob Portman’s Terrace Park gentility was comforting to a lot of people who will be turned off by the aggressive malevolence of a Jane Timkin or a recycled Josh Mandel or Jim Renacci. Some Ohioans and Clermont Countians have booked lifetime passage on the trump train, but others want to get off.
This presents us with an opportunity. However, the fact that there are historically Republican voters who are offended by trump and his enablers does not automatically turn those people into our voters. We still need to win them over. We must establish credibility with these voters.
How do we do this? First, we need to learn what issues these voters are concerned about. I do not mean the issues we think they should be concerned about but the issues they are concerned about. We also need to learn how voters talk about those issues. What language reaches them and what language turns them off? (“Defund the Police?”) We are not going to learn that by talking among ourselves. We need to find the places where moderate Republicans and independents are voicing their concerns and we must listen.
Once we understand what voters here are really concerned about and how they talk about those concerns, we must share that knowledge with our state Party and our candidates. Democrats cannot win in Ohio without attracting many more voters in the 80 or so counties, including Clermont, that are not urban Ohio. We need to become the resource for our Party and our candidates to learn the issues and language that will gain votes in Clermont County.
This will take time and effort. The payoff will not come immediately. We will never reach the voters who revel in the racism and mean-spirited nativism of donald trump. However, there are traditionally Republican voters looking for an alternative. We can reach them if our approach is different from what Fox News has taught them to be on guard against. Once we establish a dialogue with those voters, we can bring more issues into the dialogue.
 Although he is now out of office, that does not warrant according trump the respect implicit in using initial capital letters in his name.