Former Chairs Talk About Future Of Their Parties After 2016 Election

Nov 21, 2016

This election has emboldened supporters of Donald Trump, and left Hillary Clinton’s backers devastated. But it’s also brought up big questions for those who align themselves with the major political parties. Two former party chairs took time recently to talk about what the results of this election mean for the future.

A majority of Ohio voters not only elected Donald Trump, but they also re-elected Sen. Rob Portman and all 12 Republican member of the Ohio delegation to Congress, and they added a Republican to both the Ohio House and Senate. State Rep. David Leland was the Democratic Party Chair when Bill Clinton won Ohio in 1996, and he almost became the chair of the Democratic National Committee in 2005. Leland notes that Ohio's four Democratic members of Congress were re-elected too. But Leland said it’s not that Hillary Clinton was the wrong candidate, or that the party is in serious trouble.  “I just think we had a bad year. I mean, I think, it’s not wise to necessarily extrapolate what happens in one election and then say, this is what’s going to happen in the future," Leland said. "I remember losing the state of Ohio in 2004 to George W. Bush and then having Ted Strickland come back two years later and get 62% of the vote in the exact same state of Ohio.”

On the other side is former Dayton area state Rep. Kevin DeWine, who chaired the Ohio Republican Party during the GOP wave in 2010 but resigned after an intra-party battle with supporters of then newly-elected Gov. John Kasich. DeWine said Leland’s example of Democratic wins in 2006 against well-known Republicans makes him cautious about what could happen in the coming midterm election.  “So the friends on my side of the aisle who look at this and say, 'we’re on the precipice of a permanent Republican majority', I would say, what happens in Washington is going to dictate greatly what’s going to happen in 2018 here in Ohio,” DeWine said.

DeWine said it’s time to root for Trump as the commander in chief, as he said Republicans were told to do when Barack Obama was elected – though he admitted that message might not have been heard by everyone. Leland said the problem with that approach is that many are noting that Clinton actually will win the popular vote, so he feels Democrats will remain, as he put it, the loyal opposition.

As Ohio Democrats struggle with the results of this election, many of the state’s Republicans are also dealing with discord within the party – as evidenced by Kasich and Portman, who both made it clear they voted for Republicans other than Trump. And Ohio Republican Party chair Matt Borges had raised serious concerns about Trump and had wobbled on his support of the nominee until the last weeks of the campaign. DeWine says the most powerful Republican in Ohio right now is likely Bob Paduchik, who ran Trump’s Ohio campaign and publicly blasted Borges. And DeWine is wondering how that might affect the state party’s relationship with the White House – and about the future of the party’s leadership. “I’ve not talked to a member about it, but sitting on the sidelines watching this, it’s kinda hard when there appears to be such an adversarial relationship between the President-elect and the state party it seems like maybe change is in the offing.” When asked if he'd like to be the party chair, DeWine answered: “No, no. Did I say it fast enough, soon enough, quick enough? No.”

The losses for Democrats - including Ted Strickland’s 21 point loss in the US Senate race – might raise questions about leadership at the Ohio Democratic Party. Leland said he’s not concerned, but isn’t interested in a job change.  “I’m in the Kevin category here. I enjoyed the time that I was there [as] party chairman. I really enjoy coming back to the Ohio General Assembly, and I’m going to focus my time on that," Leland said. And he added: "I don’t think there’s any concern as far as David Pepper – I think he did a really good job.”

In 2018, when the offices of governor, attorney general, auditor, secretary of state and treasurer will all be open, Leland said Democrats should consider for the top of that ticket Youngstown area Congressman Tim Ryan and former attorney general Richard Cordray, currently the head of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. DeWine said likely GOP gubernatorial contenders Secretary of State Jon Husted, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and his cousin, Attorney General Mike DeWine are all battle tested. But he suggested Democrats could look to big city mayors as potential candidates.