Vol. 51, No. 3

In this edition

Earlier this year, I was having a conversation with two veteran GOP lobbyists, and, like so many other conversations in Washington these days, the topic turned to the political environment and the air of uncertainty that has descended upon this town.

The American Military: At the Tipping Point

The U.S. military is in a crisis. Decades of underfunding and continuous employment have taken their toll. Just three of the U.S. Army’s 50 combat brigades and only half the Air Force’s fighters and bombers are fully ready for a major conflict with a serious adversary.

The American Military: It is not too small. Rather, its responsibilities are too many.

Military retrenchment is not popular in the Republican Party. But America’s coming financial infirmity may allow no other course.

Suitcases Full of Propaganda for the Digital Age

Nearly 30 years after the end of the Cold War, Russian efforts to undermine the transatlantic alliance represent a clear and present threat.

A National Crisis Needs a National Response

The drug epidemic is gripping America, with West Virginia one of the hardest-hit states. But no community is immune from the suffering.

The Virginia Bellwether

The stakes are high in Virginia, where the GOP is trying to win back the Governor’s mansion, and the Democrats are running against Donald Trump.

A View from Dubuque County, Iowa

Dubuque County does not neatly fit into the standard media picture of Trump Country. In a county with fewer than 70,000 total registered voters, Democrats hold a roughly 10,000 voter edge over Republicans in terms of registration.

A View from Northampton County, Pennsylvania

At first glance, Northampton County, Pennsylvania might not seem like “Trump Country.” Despite some remnants of the steel industry that once dominated the local economy, there are few obvious indicators of the Rust Belt settings that were at the heart of Donald Trump’s electoral triumph in 2016.

A View from Trumbull County, Ohio

Trumbull County is very much a working class microcosm of Ohio. To that end, perhaps the most important thing to know about presidential politics in the Buckeye State is that Ohioans always sell their 18 electoral votes to the highest bidder.

A View from Macomb County, Michigan

Macomb County has an interesting and important history in American politics. Located northeast of Wayne County, home of Detroit, Macomb was a destination beginning in the 1970s for many white blue-collar workers who were tied to the automobile industry.

A View from Kenosha County, Wisconsin

While Kenosha County has reflected the Republican trend, there is continuing Democratic support. Trump carried the county by less than 1,000 votes. By contrast, Barack Obama in 2012 had a vote margin of nearly 10,000. Notably lower voter turnout in 2016 helps explain the difference.

The “OT’s” … the Obama-Trump Counties

A chart of the 208 counties won by Donald Trump in 2016 after they were won by Barack Obama in 2012 & 2008.

Great Expectations

As Donald Trump reaches the six month mark of his presidency, the media predictably is focused almost solely on the short term. But Republicans need to look through a different lens and play a smarter long game if they are going to be successful.

Ripon Profile of Bill Cassidy

The physician and Louisiana Senator discusses his priorities on Capitol Hill and the challenge facing the residents of his home state that he is working to address.

A View from Trumbull County, Ohio

“There is nothing to indicate the Trump train is being derailed.”

Trumbull County is very much a working class microcosm of Ohio. To that end, perhaps the most important thing to know about presidential politics in the Buckeye State is that Ohioans always sell their 18 electoral votes to the highest bidder.

Ideological beliefs, economic paradigms, and perspectives on what is good for the national interest are less relevant factors in this state. What Ohioans want to know from candidates is what they will do for Ohio. Will the candidate bring jobs to the state? Will there be greater or lesser federal investment in the Rust Belt? Will Ohio industries be strengthened or weakened if that candidate wins?

In 2016 it was simple. Donald Trump was the candidate Ohioans believed cared about them and was better for their state’s interests. In 2008 and 2012, it was Barack Obama. In those years, the Republican candidates failed to convince Ohioans that they and their policies were good for them. But in 2016, Mr. Trump hit all the right chords.

Rust belt voters were angry in 2016. They were angry that the ruling elites of their country were constantly asking them to make sacrifices without giving them back very much in return. They were tired of being told that they have a moral obligation to save the rest of the world, to have their jobs taken by immigrants, and to have their local industries compete with companies overseas. They were angry about endless wars in the Middle East and free trade agreements that to them only seemed to benefit America’s competitors and America’s wealthy captains of industry.

While education and job re-training may be issues that resonate across the country, in the Youngstown area they mostly only symbolize the break-up of families.

In 2008 and 2012, neither John McCain nor Mitt Romney told these voters what they wanted to hear. In the case of McCain, he advocated more of the same pro-immigration and democracy-exporting, nation-building global agenda of the Bush era. The anti-corruption platform of the McCain/Palin ticket also failed to resonate with people who are not necessarily opposed to corruption as long as it serves their own local interests. The colorful and crooked Congressman James Traficant, after all, represented Trumbull County for almost two decades. A region that thrives on federal investments is not likely to champion an end to pork barrel spending. Similarly, Romney failed to realize that these voters are not exactly kept awake at night by the $20 trillion national debt.

In 2000, a Republican was able to win Ohio by promoting a more modest foreign policy agenda. George W. Bush spoke about lessening America’s entanglements in foreign conflicts and did not make advancing human rights an emphasis in his campaign. While on foreign affairs and homeland security his presidency took a very different turn after 9/11, Bush still promoted policies that these voters liked. What particularly resonated with Trumbull County was Bush’s “Stand Up For Steel” plan in 2002, which imposed a tariff on steel imports. Two years later, this measure would help him win the county a second time.

On the Democratic side, both Bill Clinton and Obama spoke directly to white working class voters in their respective campaigns. They especially highlighted the Rust Belt region as vital centers of America’s economic growth. In 2008, Obama focused on this region’s potential in a new “green energy” sector. Obama also made sure to mention the city of Youngstown in his 2013 State of the Union address, citing it as home to the first manufacturing innovation institute.

Unlike Mrs. Clinton, President Obama tried to appeal to Trumbull and Mahoning County voters by convincing them that their region is an ideal center of tech production. When Mrs. Clinton spoke in Youngstown, she made no effort to highlight her predecessor’s specific focus on this region. She spoke in general terms about job creation and unions, but she did not tailor her remarks to the Youngstown area. She spoke of infrastructural updates that are irrelevant to these landlocked counties, such as “tunnels and ports and water systems.”

And while education and job re-training may be issues that resonate across the country, in the Youngstown-Warren area, they mostly only symbolize the break-up of families. No one in these counties wants their children to learn skills that could only be used if they left the area. Unless candidates present specific plans to voters that will create jobs in these counties and economically revitalize their communities, there is no chance of those candidates winning their votes.

When then-candidate Trump spoke in March 2016 at a well-attended rally at the Youngstown-Warren Airport, he promised specific improvements for the region, including a 35% tariff. The abandoned steel mills, he said, will be running again when he is president. In his August 2016 speech at Youngstown State University, he blamed global terrorism on the previous two administrations. His campaign established him as a change agent who will do things differently than what the last 16 years had brought, convincing these voters that electing his opponent would just constitute more of the same. Although he was the Republican Party nominee, he stood for a new independent brand. Like Ronald Reagan before him, he made longtime Democratic Party voters comfortable enough to vote for a Republican, and even excited to do it. He was the businessman, not a politician, who would go to Washington and make their lives great again.

The pro-Trump rallies being held almost weekly on Highway 224 and the enthusiasm for him on local talk radio all indicate that local excitement for Trump has not waned.

Six months into the presidency, the people of Trumbull County apparently still have steadfast faith in him. While national polling puts him into low favorability in national public opinion, the people in the Youngstown area seem to believe that he is working diligently for all the right ends. While there is no local polling, the pro-Trump rallies being held almost weekly on Highway 224, the enthusiasm for him on local talk radio, the Trump signs and bumper stickers that still decorate Trumbull County neighborhoods and cars, and simply the talk of the town in local pubs and pool halls, all indicate that local excitement for Trump has not waned.

His legislative failures in his first six months have not made any difference to them whatsoever. They believe that he is fighting for heartland America against a ruling elite in both parties, the courts, the national media, and the bureaucracies, which they believe are all set out to undermine his presidency. Time will tell if his support diminishes in this region, but for the time being, there is nothing to indicate that the Trump train is being derailed.

Adam L. Fuller, Ph.D, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics & International Relations at Youngstown State University.