In Ohio, the Republicans’ national shift toward the right combined with Gov. Mike DeWine’s insufficient but still tangible response to the COVID-19 pandemic signal a precarious standing for DeWine in his next elections – primary and gubernatorial – in 2022. In effect, it’s likely that Ohio’s next governor will hail from the far right.
First, let’s look at Ohio’s shift toward the right. In the 2008 presidential election, Democrat Barack Obama outperformed Republican John McCain by 4 percentage points. In the 2012 election, Ohio voted for Democrat Barack Obama by 1.9 percentage points more than it did for Republican Mitt Romney. By the 2016 election, however, Republican Donald Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton by 8.1 percentage points. And in 2020, Trump took the state by 8.0 percentage points.
While the results of the past two election cycles do not forcibly mean that Ohio is no longer a swing state, Trump’s ability as a “far-right” candidate in 2016 and 2020 to so resoundingly outperform McCain and Romney as moderates in 2008 and 2012 suggests that Ohio Republicans (and voters at large) have developed a taste for committedly right-wing politicians.
This is also evident in Ohio’s governors since around the time of the Obama election. In 2006, Ohioans elected Democratic Governor Ted Strickland. Then, in 2010, they selected Republican John Kasich. Following Kasich, Republican Mike DeWine was elected in 2018. The two governors since Strickland have each been more conservative than the last: Kasich, a truly moderate Republican who has sided with Democrats and has been critical of Trump, could still be considered farther right than Strickland. And DeWine, while still a moderate Republican, has sided with Trump and could be considered slightly farther right than Kasich.
In short, since the late 2000s, Ohio voters have increasingly exhibited a preference for right-wing politicians. This has been complemented by a more general shift toward the right in the Republican party. Since the same time, after the Tea Party, the Freedom Caucus and the election of Donald Trump, what one may have previously called the “far-right” has now gained enough traction among Republicans to simply be considered mainstream. And if the “far-right” is now the “mainstream right,” then it should not be surprising that Ohio’s next governor could be significantly farther right than what we have now.
This is supported by the notion that Republicans seem to be amputating the moderate arm of their party: Trump, for example, calls any moderate Republican who does not support him a RINO (“Republican In Name Only”). Trump has also recently directed his ire toward the already extremely conservative Fox News, instead displaying a preference for the even more right-wing One America News Network (OANN). Ultimately, according to FiveThirtyEight, the culmination of this work by far-right media, activists and donors has meant that moderates in the Republican party are growing scarce.
This disowning of moderates has played out in the case of the Ohio governorship: In a tweet reading, “Who will be running for Governor of the Great State of Ohio? Will be hotly contested!” Trump seemed to be calling for DeWine to be challenged in the Ohio gubernatorial primary race preceding the 2022 election. Trump’s implicit challenge to DeWine’s reelection probably stems either from DeWine’s relatively pragmatic handling of the pandemic or simply from the fact that DeWine, who did voice support for Trump, is still a moderate.
The pandemic has certainly become a point of great political disagreement: Republicans are only half as likely as Democrats to wear masks very often or always, are less likely to social distance and are generally more hostile to the idea of a shut-downs as public health measures. DeWine, on the other hand, has taken a more proactive approach to the pandemic that has even earned him praise from Democrats like President-elect Joe Biden.
However, DeWine’s pandemic responses have been more than what many Republicans find tenable. His recent institution of a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. has, for example, drawn protests in which many in attendance can be seen wearing Trump clothing and pushing right-wing talking points about the pandemic.
The culmination of Republican renunciations of DeWine occurred on November 30, when four Republican state lawmakers filed 12 articles of impeachment against DeWine relating to his handling of the pandemic. According to State Rep. John Becker, by “putting nearly 12 million people under house arrest,” Dewine has “assumed dictatorial powers.” While the impeachment is not likely to go through, it is a demonstration of the scale of the loathing of Mike DeWine coming from the right.
So, taking stock, a shift toward the right among Ohio voters, the Republican party’s acceptance of the “far-right,” and Republican outrage over Governor Mike DeWine’s pandemic response mean that DeWine may face a challenger from farther right in the Republican primary in 2022 (assuming the impeachment fails). And that challenger may win.
Sam Smith is a rising senior studying geography at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Sam know by tweeting him @sambobsmith_.