“Revenge is sweet,” or so the saying goes. When it comes to politics, it looks like Trump got a bit of his own in Ohio.
This past Friday, the Ohio GOP’s Central Committee elected a new chair, Trump-supporter Jane Timken. That event by itself isn’t remarkable – in the coming months quite a few state and local parties are going to choose their leadership for the next political cycle. In some cases, there will be serious and energetic challenges for those positions. What’s different here is that President-Elect Trump directly campaigned for Ms. Timken, contacting committee members directly and lobbying for their support.
The Hill reports that after two deadlocked votes, sitting chair Matt Borges withdrew from the chair race, agreeing to be named ‘chairman emeritus’ of the party instead. That could be an indication that Borges believed further rounds of voting would prove divisive to the Ohio GOP’s unity; or it could be a reflection of some behind-the-scenes negotiating that allowed the party to put a positive spin on the leadership fight. What people in Ohio politics seem to be able to agree on: both the challenge to Borges and his ouster constitute Trump’s payback for Borges’ support of Kasich in the highly charged presidential race.
The internal politics of a state Republican party aren’t usually news. Barring scandals, traditional media rarely reports on changes in leadership at the state level. But when a president-elect begins targeting the leadership of state parties, it becomes national news. And when observers speculate that the reason for the ouster is the leadership’s insufficient support of the president-elect’s campaign, political reporters will start looking for other states in which the process might be repeated. If true, political ‘realignments’ of leadership won’t be limited to Ohio; but will extend to other states and other candidates as well.
This raises some sobering questions about the purposes and functions of state political parties.
- Do the state parties exist to further their state’s interests, or support a national candidate?
- To whom do the state parties owe their highest loyalty?
- Should a president-elect involve himself personally in state-level leadership contests?
- Should state parties function mostly independently of the national parties?
- What level of allegiance should party leaders owe to candidates running at the top of the ticket?
- Are there ever occasions in which state party leaders should be actively opposing their president/president-elect?
In the election aftermath of surprise and shock following Donald Trump’s victory, these questions faded into the background amidst the drama and fireworks of protests, campaigns to push presidential electors to switch, insults, and other noise. But now the Ohio GOP leadership challenge has forced these issues back to the fore. The answers to these questions will shape the next four years in Washington and across the country, and deserve much more thought and discussion than they currently receive.
Trump praised Timken in a congratulatory tweet as a ‘loyal Trump supporter’. But political party activists and observers are right to wonder whether loyalty to Trump is more important than to the ideas and values of the Republican Party. There is much space to wonder whether Trump is ushering in a regime that is at least making noises more closely reflecting the party’s platform. However, the real test will be in the initiatives he advances, and the reaction to them if (and when) they depart from the traditional Republican viewpoints.
By then, the loyalty tests should not be about loyalty to Trump, but to Republican values and the interests of the American people.