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Ohio GOP Goes Vance: It’s Still Trump’s Party

No signs of moving on.
by Jim Swift
May 3, 2022
Ohio GOP Goes Vance: It’s Still Trump’s Party
Republican U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance arrives onstage after winning the primary, at an election night event at Duke Energy Convention Center on May 3, 2022 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Vance, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, narrowly won over former state Treasurer Josh Mandel, according to published reports. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Ohio’s fall matchup has been set: J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, Never-Trumper-turned-Trump-lover, Ivy League grad, and Peter Thiel hedge fund guy vs. Tim Ryan, a longtime Ohio congressman from Youngstown who had the bad judgment to work for the very corrupt Jim Traficant.

The GOP primary was hard to predict for a number of reasons. For starters, there were a lot of candidates. Practically none of them were good. The closest was Matt Dolan, part-owner of the Cleveland Indians, er, Guardians, who tried to occupy an impossible place: Trump is bad, but we have to move on, and no, I wouldn’t have impeached him if I had had a vote.

Before turning to Vance and what the general election might hold, let’s say a bit more about Dolan, whose imaginationland candidacy took hold to a greater degree than I predicted. After all, Dolan and his family changed the beloved name of a local sports franchise, killing off Chief Wahoo. And he is known for being, shall we say, thrifty on contracts. Even so, voters looked at the other two leading candidates, J.D. Vance and Josh Mandel, and decided to give Dolan enough votes—about 23 percent of the total, as of this writing—to ruin the race for Mandel. I wanted to like Dolan, but you can’t say you want the GOP to move on from Trump but still let Trump dominate the party by saying you think, despite everything we know, that he should still be eligible to run for office in 2024. It’s that sort of foolishness—pretending to be post-Trump while Trump still has an ironclad grip on the party—that ruined Gov. Larry Hogan.

Dolan had the good fortune to run against a bunch of batshit crazy opponents who were much bigger Trump sellouts. A lot of the votes for Dolan have to be understood as protest votes—as a way of avoiding voting for Mandel or Vance, candidates who seemed willing to say or do anything to win.

On Sunday, speaking at a rally in Nebraska, Trump hilariously couldn’t get straight the name of the guy he had endorsed in Ohio:

If Vance had lost, Trump might have been mocked mercilessly for the weakness of his endorsement. He might have started to look toothless. Stories would have followed about his weakening grasp on the GOP.

But Trump’s endorsement was decisive: J.D. Vance (not J.P. Mandel) exited the bowels of the polls to win. Before Trump’s nod, Vance had been in third place, polling around 10 percent. He won with what looks like 32 percent. And that’s 100 percent thanks to Trump.

So much for the Republican party moving on.

But in the general election, Vance now has to face Tim Ryan, who is . . . normal. He said tonight that expects to go after the voters who went for Dolan:

In the Vance vs. Ryan showdown, it’s worth remembering that, while Ohio went MAGA red in 2016 and again in 2020, somebody else keeps winning there: Sherrod Brown. He even beat Josh Mandel, handily, in 2012.

Like Brown, Tim Ryan is deeply concerned with the downsides of global trade. The nationalism and hostility to China and free trade have been something of a first language for him, even before his days as an elected official, as a staffer for Jim Traficant. Agree or disagree (and I disagree very much), there is nothing phony about Ryan.

Has Ohio gone so far red that voters don’t care anymore about people being genuine? Maybe so—that’s one way of reading the GOP primary results. But if it still matters to Ohio voters that a candidate be genuine and not a prepackaged phony, Ryan may well have a fighting chance.

Jim Swift

Jim Swift is a senior editor at The Bulwark.