Ohio Republicans Consider Future Of The GOP After Divisive Election

Nov 2, 2016
Originally published on November 2, 2016 5:54 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Earlier this week, Ohio's Republican governor, John Kasich, cast his vote for president. He wrote in John McCain. That's just one indication of how this election is not quite like any other. Our colleague Robert Siegel is in Ohio this week to hear about the impact Donald Trump is having on the state's Republicans.

Yesterday he brought us the voices of enthusiastic Trump voters, grassroots supporters who are more attracted to the candidate than to his party - today, voices of the state's GOP establishment - three Ohioans who are longtime Republican leaders. They hold ambivalent views at best of their party's presidential nominee.

ROBERT SIEGEL, BYLINE: Mike DeWine first ran for and won public office as a county prosecutor in 1976. Now he's attorney general.

So how've you been?

MIKE DEWINE: This is crazy.

SIEGEL: It is. It is. We were...

DEWINE: Can't make it up.

SIEGEL: There's a wall just outside his office in Columbus that is decorated with more than two dozen commemorative framed documents, highlights of DeWine's career in Washington where he was a two-term U.S. senator. They are framed pieces of federal legislation that he co-sponsored.

DEWINE: So these are up here for two reasons. The most important reason is my wife got tired of storing them.

SIEGEL: (Laughter).

DEWINE: But the second is...

SIEGEL: Yeah.

DEWINE: ...In each one of those cases, I had a Democrat co-sponsor.

SIEGEL: This is going to be an artifact pretty soon. You won't understand it's the framed pen with a copy of the legislation from the days when Congress used to pass bills.

DEWINE: (Laughter) Yeah, well...

SIEGEL: Mike DeWine has held just about every elected office you can hold in Ohio, and in two years, he's expected to run for the rare office he hasn't held - governor. He says he'll vote for Donald Trump to keep Hillary Clinton from naming liberal federal judges. As for Trump's impact on the GOP, he says it can't be ignored.

DEWINE: Well, I think if we think that this is just a phenomena of one person and it's Donald Trump, we're dead wrong. Donald Trump has tapped into a feeling that many people in this country have, and that is that the political system simply does not work.

SIEGEL: Does that lead you to rethink what your politics are, how you address the electorate, what the Republican Party should be?

DEWINE: No, not really. You know, I'm kind of a pragmatic guy. I judge, you know, what I do by the results I get. I think the American people are looking for results. They're looking at Donald Trump, and they're saying, I'm not happy with what Democrats and Republicans have done. We'll take a chance on Trump.

SIEGEL: I mean, what about a basic issue like trade, which he's found deep anger with among the electorate? Should the Republicans be rethinking their support of free trade?

DEWINE: Look, I think you're going to end up with maybe a more thoughtful view of trade, probably end up somewhere in the middle, not where every trade deal is bad but maybe not where every trade deal is good. And I think that is a fundamental shift.

SIEGEL: That's Ohio Attorney General and longtime Republican office holder Mike DeWine. Another shift the Republicans could make, according to veteran GOP activist Jo Ann Davidson, is on health care. The former speaker of the Ohio House is still a Republican National committeewoman at age 89. She says the GOP has to go beyond calling for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

JO ANN DAVIDSON: I understand the frustration that's out there right now, particularly with prices going up and a lot of the insurance companies getting out of it. We need to have a solid plan going forward that leads that, this is what we're going to propose. Just basically saying we're going to repeal it makes people feel good about it.

SIEGEL: Yeah.

DAVIDSON: But what are you going to do?

SIEGEL: Jo Ann Davidson speaks of health care as a basic right, and says if Obamacare is repealed, something has to be left standing for people who are uninsured. Davidson was a strong backer of Governor John Kasich's presidential campaign, and despite a very public rift between Kasich and Trump, she stresses the cooperation between the state party and its nominee.

DAVIDSON: I think there are, behind the scenes, working relationships with the Trump campaign to be sure that the victory centers are being run appropriately, good information. A lot of the data is coming from the Ohio Republican Party in doing that. We are doing what we believe is the very best thing to help Donald Trump.

SIEGEL: Jo Ann Davidson has scrupulously avoided saying whether she's voting for Donald Trump or not. Doug Preisse says he's not. He's writing in John Kasich. Preisse is chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party. That's Columbus and its suburbs, the biggest county in the state. Preisse says his party has to respond to Trump's successes.

DOUG PREISSE: I liken it to maybe a molting, that we've got to shed some of our old skin and not abandon principle. But if we end the conversation by saying, we've got to balance budgets and we're after small government and people should do what they can on their own and government only steps in as a last result, period, I don't think we've finished the necessary sentence. I think it's a comma, and economic growth is a necessary predicate for people thriving, for jobs, for our ability to do the softer things that we need to be talking about.

SIEGEL: Drug abuse, mental health care, education. I asked Doug Preisse whether if Donald Trump loses on November 8, the battle for control of the Republican Party starts on November 9.

PREISSE: Well, this is what's interesting. What is the Republican Party? National parties are these giants, amorphous messy things, and I think it will remain to be seen what emerges. I think and hope that if Mr. Trump loses and we're out for another four years, we'll have an opportunity to really take a step back and examine the health of the party, where we need to be going, how we're going to be sensitive to and attract millennials, younger voters, Hispanics, African-Americans, women in real ways, not just rhetorical.

SIEGEL: These Ohio establishment Republicans are in a bind. They acknowledge Donald Trump represents a challenge to politics as usual that won't go away, but as to how their party might change to answer that challenge, they have no easy answers.

CORNISH: That's our colleague Robert Siegel reporting from the swing state of Ohio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.