Trump ground game: Striking out in Cincinnati, or just coming to bat?

Has the Trump campaign derailed in a key Ohio county before the general election even gets under way? Is it time to write off Ohio? According to sources from my book Going Red, which featured Hamilton County and its major metropolitan area Cincinnati as keys to GOP presidential hopes, not so fast. The story began yesterday when Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Jeremy Fugleberg reported on an internal e-mail which suggested that Team Trump’s efforts are in disarray:

With the presidential election 90 days away, the Donald Trump campaign is scrambling to set up the basics of a campaign in Hamilton County, a key county in a swing state crucial to a Republican victory, a recent internal email obtained by The Enquirer shows.

The campaign has yet to find or appoint key local leaders or open a campaign office in the county and isn’t yet sure which Hamilton County Republican party’s central committee members are allied with the Republican presidential nominee.

“If they are against us, we just need to know,” wrote Missy Mae Walters, Southwest Ohio regional coordinator for the campaign.

Even campaign materials, such as signs and stickers, aren’t yet available.

“We have been promised they’re on their way,” she wrote.

How much of a problem is this really? A source within Hamilton County GOP leadership tells me that the stories are largely overblown. “We just got out of a bruising primary,” the source told me, so he’s not surprised that the Trump campaign may be off to a slower start than Romney was in 2012. It’s also worth noting, although this source didn’t mention it, that the convention took place six weeks earlier than in 2012, too. Meanwhile, enthusiasm for Trump in Hamilton is significantly higher than four years ago. “If we need 50 volunteers” for a function, he says, “we’d get 75” just by asking. (Fugleberg also noted the presence of a “fervent volunteer base” for Trump.) The local GOP and the Trump campaign has had “very productive meetings” recently, and he believes that the organization added to the enthusiasm boost will allow Trump to campaign effectively in Hamilton and southwestern Ohio.

This source scoffed at the issue of signs and stickers. “Democrats don’t have yard signs out yet either,” he tells me, “and yard signs won’t make a difference in this presidential election. Name ID isn’t an issue.” Another issue that arose in other media reports, the resignation of a central committee member over Trump’s nomination, was a similarly overblown topic. In the previous cycle, a handful of people on the 400+-member central committee resigned over Romney’s nomination, in one case specifically because of “Romneycare.” “It happens every cycle,” the source insists.

Hamilton County’s importance is no mirage, as my book explains. For several decades, Hamilton was more Republican than the rest of Ohio, but Barack Obama won it two elections in a row — and it will take a very sustained effort to win it back. That requires a superior campaign, and a candidate willing to break outside of ideological paradigms and address the concerns of the hardworking families still left in Hamilton:

After two straight shocking losses in Hamilton, Republicans should understand that they need to reconnect with voters and demonstrate that they have recovered in what should be a GOP stronghold. But a loss in Hamilton would almost certainly doom Republicans in Ohio, and with it, their hopes of winning back the White House. …

Mostly, though, Hamilton County voters want someone who gets things done. “People are pretty pragmatic down here,” Lou says. “Tell me something is going to work. Don’t give me all of this [ideological] stuff. What’s going to work? How do you attack the problem? Give me something I understand. I want to understand how that is going to affect my family.”

Commissioner Hartmann agrees. “We’ve still got a tremendous amount of challenges in this country, and I think problem solver is going to carry the day,” he says. “Democrats won because they projected more of an ability to focus on the economy that affects their lives. That’s going to again determine the next presidential election in the next cycle—who can do the best job at being a problem solver and fixing a lot of these problems.”

Competence and pragmatism will attract people to the Republican candidate, says Zac Haines. “Say let’s make government more efficient and more effective,” he advises, but “then you have to go a step further. Why are we doing these [policies]? Make sure people who need help get it quicker, better, and faster,” Haines answers. “And so we don’t have to raise taxes and have jobs, and good companies who provide jobs don’t leave our state and or go upstate. That’s the extra step. We don’t go the extra step. We’ve got to finish off the answer.”

Reprinted (or Adapted) from GOING RED: THE TWO MILLION VOTERS WHO WILL ELECT THE NEXT PRESIDENT—AND HOW CONSERVATIVES CAN WIN THEM Copyright © 2016 by Ed Morrissey. Published by Crown Forum, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Did the Trump campaign get off to a slower start in Hamilton than Republicans might have hoped? Yes, but the reports of “disarray” and despair seem exaggerated. As my source noted with no small amount of frustration, “This is what we mean when we talk about media bias.”

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Duane Patterson 2:01 PM on June 05, 2023