The Ripon Forum

Volume 52, No. 5

November 2018

A View from Trumbull County, Ohio

By on October 23, 2018

“Trump’s single greatest achievement is his tearing up of NAFTA.“


Although Trumbull County is a Democratic Party stronghold in congressional politics, presidential elections are not about partisan loyalty in this area.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (OH-13), who represents most of the county and who challenged Nancy Pelosi for leadership of the House Democratic Caucus in 2017, will easily coast to re-election against his Republican challenger.  Similarly, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown can also count on getting the Trumbull County vote in his bid for re-election this year.

President Trump, on the other hand, appears to be holding the same high level of support in this county that he got in 2016. His public approval has dipped here, but only marginally. The question, then, is what accounts for Trump’s popularity in this county?

The simple answer is that they like what he is doing.

At a recent rally in the neighboring Rust Belt state of Indiana, President Trump declared mission accomplished in his goal of making America great again. He said his slogan would now be, “Keep America Great.” He cited strong economic numbers, trillions of dollars of added wealth, and low unemployment.

What many people in other parts of the country see as a frightening trade war, Trumbull County voters see as a Herculean fight for America’s national interests.

Accomplishments like these are music to the ears of the typical grass roots, working class, Democratic voter in the Rust Belt who put the President into office in 2016. It not only means that they have jobs and a feeling of job security, but that the policies set forth by the President are providing them with a path back to the America they and their parents once knew.

Resonating most of all are Trump’s protectionist trade policies. What many people in other parts of the country see as a frightening trade war, Trumbull County voters see as a Herculean fight for America’s national interests against the forces of greed and the do-gooders who expect Americans to make sacrifices without getting anything back in return.

A very significant industry in this county is steel.  Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs are seen as a step in the right direction to bring back manufacturing jobs to this area.  While Trump’s promise at the Youngstown airport in 2016 to restore the city’s abandoned steel mills has not happened and probably never will, people in Trumbull County see successes in similar cities that give them hope that the future will be bright here, too.  After Trump’s announcement of the 25 percent tariff on imported steel, the steel factory in Granite City, Illinois that was closed in 2015 has reopened, bringing over 500 laid-off workers back to work.

Perhaps what is seen here in Trumbull County as Trump’s single greatest achievement is his tearing up of NAFTA and replacing it with the USCMA. The most locally significant provision in the new agreement is the one pertaining to the auto industry.  It requires autoworkers to be paid $16 an hour. This will likely bring more jobs back to the U.S. from Mexico, because Mexican auto plants rarely pay more than $5 an hour. The local Chevy Cruze plant in Lordstown, Ohio closed two of its shifts last year and laid off hundreds of workers. People in Trumbull County now feel hopeful that jobs will return as a result of Trump’s new agreement with our North American trading partners.

Trumbull County will remain blue in November.  But Trump has made a dent in this longtime Democratic stronghold.

Ron Verb, the local radio talk show host on WKBN, has been one of Trump’s most unflinching supporters.  He, like many in this county who feel the same way, supported Barack Obama in the previous elections. He now feels utterly disappointed in the Democratic Party and most particularly with the local representatives to Congress who have been longtime opponents of NAFTA.  He thinks they say the right things just to get votes but never actually take steps to replace NAFTA with an agreement that protects Ohio’s interests. Every day on his radio show, Verb praises Trump for doing in two years what our career politicians have failed to do in decades.

Does this mean that Tim Ryan and Sherrod Brown – who, between them, have been representing this area and Ohio in Washington for over four decades — are in trouble this year because of their ineffectual opposition to NAFTA?  No – the roots of Democratic politics run too deep here.  For that reason, Trumbull County will remain blue in November.  But Trump has made a dent in this longtime Democratic stronghold.

And if his policies continue bearing fruit, and if the economic rebirth occurring in cities like Granite City occurs in communities like Lordstown that are closer to home, then I wouldn’t be surprised if Republicans running for the House and Senate get more than a passing glance by county voters in 2020.

Adam L. Fuller, Ph.D, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics & International Relations at Youngstown State University.  To read Professor Fuller’s analysis of the political environment in Trumbull County that appeared in the June 2017 edition of the Forum, please click here.

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