If you close your eyes, you could almost hear them now.
“Portman. Portman. Portman,” the feverish throngs chant.
In the minds of these multitudes, they can envision that fateful January in 2017 when Ohio Sen. Rob Portman puts his hand on the bible and takes the oath of office to serve as America’s 45th President of the United States.
The dream was dashed on Tuesday when Ohio’s junior senator released a statement in which he revealed that he was unequivocally not interested in being the umpteenth Republican on the 2016 debate stage. Instead, Portman will run for reelection to the U.S. Senate in that presidential election year.
In a statement, Portman said he was excited about the prospect of finally being in the majority – a new experience for the first-term senator, who was elected in 2010 – and did not feel he could accomplish what he wanted to in that chamber while also chasing votes in a presidential election.
“With the new Republican majority, I see a real opportunity over the next two years to break the gridlock in Washington and actually get things done to help Ohioans and all Americans. That’s where I believe I can play the most constructive role. I don’t think I can run for president and be an effective senator at the same time,” he said.
He’s eager to overhaul the tax code, reduce regulation, and increase exports, among other things. He’d also like to see the new Republican majority block the president if they feel he’s overreached.
“I know it will not be easy to break the gridlock and make Washington work, but I’m excited to roll up my sleeves to make a difference for the people of Ohio and the country. While I appreciate the encouragement I have received from many to run for president, my focus will remain on Ohio and running for re-election to the Senate in 2016,” he said.
We joke, but there was a vibrant contingent of pro-Portman Republicans who had urged the moderate Buckeye senator to make a run at the White House.
“[H]e might be the most qualified nominee since George H.W. Bush,” The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin wrote. “A center-right, experienced conservative and frequently mentioned vice presidential candidate and debate partner for Mitt Romney, Portman is somewhat of a throwback to the sort of sober, mature leadership that used to predominate in the Senate.”
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, John Feehery observed that Portman would have filled “the gap” in the already jam-packed GOP presidential field. “Mr. Portman would be the anti-Obama. He has deep experience in both the legislative and executive branches, where President Barack Obama had none,” he wrote. “He has a long record of bipartisanship, where Mr. Obama has been one of the most polarizing presidents in history.”
“Isn’t it time that we start talking about a candidate who will represent the Republican wing of the Republican Party?” Feehery asked.
The reality is that the “Republican Wing of the Republican Party,” which one assumes to mean center-right wing that is not unfriendly toward the Beltway-based GOP establishment, is relatively small compared to their conservative counterparts. The fact that this wing has enjoyed what conservatives believe to be undue influence over the party’s political trajectory has been a source of consternation for years. In 2016, the party’s conservative wing seeks to prove that conservatives running as conservatives can win both the GOP’s nomination and the White House in 2016.
For their part, those who favor a more establishment presidential candidate are unlikely to shed a tear for Portman. They have a wide field of potential prospects from which to choose. Save for a handful of columnists, it is unclear what factors prompted the Ohio senator to contemplate a White House bid in the first place.