Tuesday, June 6

With J.D. Vance at the lead, the political cheapening of Ohio continues: Brent Larkin

CLEVELAND — The putrefaction of Ohio politics is one election away from completion.

By nominating J.D. Vance as the Republican nominee for Rob Portman’s U.S. Senate seat, Donald Trump’s legions of unquestioning followers have embraced the most unlikable and untrustworthy candidate imaginable. The darling of the GOP’s affection has already revealed that he doesn’t give one bit about the senseless slaughter in the Ukraine. He’s a willing stooge for a Silicon Valley billionaire, a self-described hillbilly turned venture capitalist who shamefully imported congressional trash like Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene to assist in his intellectually bankrupt campaign.

Not content to merely parade around the state with these vermin, Vance told Ohioans Greene “did nothing wrong” by speaking at a white nationalist conference in February, a conference where attendees lovingly chanted Vladimir Putin’s name. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell disagreed, saying of Greene’s appearance, “There’s no place in the Republican Party for white supremacists or anti-Semitism.”

Vance must think there’s plenty of places for them in Ohio.

Nevertheless, because Ohio is a hopelessly red state, Vance, who in 2016 wrote a Yale Law School classmate, according to that classmate, that Donald Trump as president might become “America’s Hitler,” is the solid favorite to defeat Democrat and longtime Youngstown-area U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan in the Nov. 8 general election.

The night before Tuesday’s Ohio primary, the U.S. Supreme Court may have changed the general election subject, sending a mid-term election campaign on a trajectory of obliterating any hope of a national reconciliation. In Ohio, it’s far less certain whether the leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion repealing abortion protections guaranteed in Roe v. Wade will change the outcome of the election for Senate and governor.

Ukraine and abortion issues represent opportunities for Ryan. And the likely repeal of Roe v. Wade may lead to a bump in Democratic turnout, which was pathetic in Tuesday’s primary and yet another ominous sign for November.

No matter what one’s views on abortion, repealing Roe v. Wade would reveal a Supreme Court wildly out of touch with the American public. A Politico poll taken May 3 found half the voters opposed Roe being overturned and 28% were supportive. What’s more, the makeup of today’s court bears little resemblance to a country where the Democrat has won the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections.

Notwithstanding the potential advantages a Roe v. Wade repeal might bring to the candidacy of Ryan and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Nan Whaley, the lessons of Politics 101 are irrefutable: Pocketbook issues decide elections. And those issues all favor Vance, especially in a state whose descent into the far-right extremes of American politics has been as swift as it is troubling.

There’s a messianic quality about Vance that’s more worrisome than any of the falsehoods peddled by Josh Mandel. But all the Trump sycophants in this race are or will become full-throated Vance supporters. This group includes Jane Timken, the Portman-backed candidate who waged a historically inept campaign that earned her a measly 6% of the vote. It includes Mike Gibbons, who seems determined to continue wasting millions that would otherwise be earmarked for his loved ones and worthy causes on losing campaigns for high office. And it includes Mandel, who will go to bed every night for the rest of his life knowing his obsequious fawning over all things Trump earned him nothing but humiliating rejection and defeat. History will not be kind to Mandel. There’s still time for him to realize that and do something about it.

State Sen. Matt Dolan, who never had a chance despite polls indicating he did, quickly got the message that having a conscience won’t work with the new GOP, so he warmly embraced Vance’s candidacy.

For Dolan and perhaps other primary election losers and quitters, this is all about 2024, when they’ll be coming for the last Democrat standing, three-term Sen. Sherrod Brown.

Include Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose in that group, now a Trump toady who has shamelessly abandoned his past criticisms of demagogues who embrace false election fraud theories.

Again, Vance is a sizeable favorite to win this Senate seat. But it’s worth clinging to a hope the majority of Ohio’s sensible voters will come to understand that the book-banning policies of Vance’s “America First” crowd are also designed to strip women, minorities and gays of their freedoms. And Vance’s history as a reckless, at times cruel, loose cannon might cause voters to conclude he is indeed “a fraud,” as one woman in a television ad promoting Mandel asserted.

Ryan told me Wednesday that Vance has said things that are “absolutely disqualifying.” He may be right, but that verdict rests with voters.

Early this year, when a reporter asked Vance about his propensity to say and write things people find offensive, he answered, “People may not always agree with my rhetoric, but, I think, unfortunately, our country is kind of a joke. And we should be able to tell jokes about it.”

If he wins, the joke’s on us.

RIP, Jim Stanton: Few Cleveland officeholders in the 20th century were as skilled at the use of political power as James V. Stanton, who died May 2 in suburban Washington, D.C., at the age of 90.

A member of Cleveland City Council representing the West Park neighborhood from 1959 through 1970, in 1964, Stanton engineered a perfectly executed coup of the legendary Council President Jack Russell, with longtime Councilwoman and later Council Clerk Mercedes Cotner delivering the surprise vote that ended Russell’s reign. Later, Stanton’s long-running feud with Carl Stokes led to some epic political clashes that left both men disliking each other immensely. Suggestions that race was a factor in those bitter disagreements were belied by Stanton’s lifelong friendships with Black political icons like George Forbes, Leo Jackson, George White and, later, Louis Stokes, Carl’s brother.

Elected to Congress in 1970, Stanton quickly became one of House Speaker “Tip” O’Neill’s most trusted allies. But in 1976, he abandoned a safe seat in Congress that could have been his for decades, losing a Democratic Party primary for the U.S. Senate race to Howard Metzenbaum. Stanton never again ran for office, eventually becoming a successful Washington, D.C., lobbyist and a powerful force in Cleveland-area politics long after he left elected life.

Brent Larkin was The Plain Dealer’s editorial director from 1991 until his retirement in 2009.

To reach Brent Larkin: blarkin@cleveland.com

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