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The Ohio primary and what it means for the general election

Supporters attend a primary election night event for J.D. Vance, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Ohio, at Duke Energy Convention Center on May 3, 2022 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Supporters attend a primary election night event for J.D. Vance, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Ohio, at Duke Energy Convention Center on May 3, 2022 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Donald Trump is endorsing primary candidates in midterm races across the country. And they’re winning GOP primaries.

Including Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance. Trump-endorsed candidates will now have to take their message to general election voters.

To Republicans, Democrats and Independents. Will it work?

In Ohio, Democratic Senate Candidate Tim Ryan thinks Trump’s appeal goes only so far:

“We are absolutely going to win this race. J.D. Vance was lucky to make it through the primary,” Rep. Tim Ryan said.

Today, On Point: We’re going to look closely at swing state Ohio, and what the midterms Senate race there says about the appeal of Trumpism nationwide.


Gary Abernathy, freelance writer and contributing columnist for the Washington Post. (@AbernathyGary)

Haley BeMiller, covers state government and politics for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio. (@haleybemiller)

Jack Beatty, On Point news analyst. (@JackBeattyNPR)

Also Featured

John Bridgeland, former chief of staff for Sen. Rob Portman.

Transcript: A Longtime Ohio Republican On The Rise Of J.D. Vance

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: Donald Trump’s endorsement of J.D. Vance and the influence or impact of Trumpism in Ohio politics right now is quite a complex thing. In order to understand another Republican’s view on it, we reached out to John Bridgeland. He’s a longtime Ohio Republican.

And on Sunday, he published an opinion piece in the Cincinnati Enquirer endorsing Democratic candidate Tim Ryan. And in that op-ed, Bridgeland made the case for Ryan’s policies to both Democrats and Republicans.

Bridgeland wrote about J.D. Vance quite disparagingly, saying, quote, ‘Vance’s campaign has also been anemic, lacking the energy of the U.S. senator he is trying to replace — Rob Portman. Who worked hard in every county in Ohio and brought people together instead of tearing them apart.’

JOHN BRIDGELAND: When I wrote that op-ed, I didn’t know quite what to expect. I’ve gotten hundreds of emails from people in Ohio, including tons of Republicans, saying, Thank you for reminding us what the Republican Party is about. And for our need, first and foremost, to defend our democracy.

CHAKRABARTI: Bridgeland is an Ohio native. He served as chief of staff to Ohio Senator Rob Portman when Portman was a member of the House from 1993 to 1998. He also served as director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under President George W. Bush. So Bridgeland told us that with a pedigree like that, you’d think he’d automatically endorse Vance, the Republican candidate.

BRIDGELAND: My dad grew up in poverty in Akron, and Bellville, Ohio. The son, only son of a single mom and an alcoholic dad. And he was in northern industrial poverty, not the Appalachian poverty that J.D. Vance writes about in Hillbilly Elegy. But I was really interested in his book. And I read the book, invited him to be a keynote speaker with me at a public media station. He was very smart, very insightful. And I thought, wow, what an extraordinary person.

CHAKRABARTI: Bridgeland says his opinion of Vance changed as he watched the current Ohio Senate race unfold. Because back in 2016, J.D. Vance opposed what Donald Trump stood for. He had written a scathing op-ed in The Atlantic on the 4th of July 2016, where Vance compared Trumpism to the opioid epidemic.

Quote, ‘What Trump offers is an easy escape from the pain. To every complex problem, he promises a simple solution,’ J.D. Vance wrote. ‘He never offers details for how these plans will work, because he can’t. Trump’s promises are the needle in America’s collective vein.’

But by 2020, J.D. Vance made a complete about-face, and all of a sudden he publicly embraced Trumpism, and embraced Donald Trump’s biggest lie of all.

J.D. VANCE [Tape]: We had a massive effort to shift the election by very powerful people in this country. And I don’t care …  whether you say it’s rigged, whether you say it’s stolen. Like, I’ll say what I’m going to say about it.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, John Bridgeland says:

BRIDGELAND: J.D. knows better. He did a 180 turn of his view. Simply to win the endorsement and the Republican nomination, which I just thought was not becoming of a state that has had senators like John Glenn and John Sherman and George Voinovich … and people who have always risen, at some level, above politics for the state and national good.

A decade ago, Tim Ryan, a Democratic congressman reached out to me, a Republican who’d been Bush’s director of the Domestic Policy Council, because he saw … Colin Powell and I were working on the high school dropout problem. And so I thought, here’s a man, you know, who reaches across the aisle, cares deeply about children and solving public problems. He’s announced on the campaign he’s not going to engage in the culture wars.

And that’s exactly the kind of bridge builder that we need. And then I also saw it as a stark contrast to J.D. Vance. The reason we have a republic, not just a democracy, is the founders worried a lot about mob rule and felt that representatives who, you know, it was their job to study and be educated, engaged on public issues, that they would both represent their constituents and also kind of tap the better angels of our nature.

And when I think back on the Trump effect and after the January 6th insurrection, if Republican senators had stood up and checked that power, and said that a person who incites an insurrection does not agree to the peaceful transfer of power, which is unique in our history, can never hold public office again. We wouldn’t be in the circumstance we’re in today.

We wouldn’t have candidates all over the country denying an election. Because there wouldn’t be that narrative in the public domain. I think most Americans want to see people who are trustworthy and honest. And who don’t change their stripes for simply political advantage.

Yes, the primary and the general difference in terms of the populations you’re trying to reach. But my experience tells me that the great men and women who have served in the United States Senate ought to be people of extraordinary character, intelligence and trustworthiness. If J.D. Vance is willing to change his stripes so much from before the election to get the primary, what would he do to remain in power? It’s a disturbing question.

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