Why Can't Mike DeWine Succeed as a Reasonable Republican?Breaking News
tags: Republican Party, conservatism, polarization, Ohio
On the afternoon of March 3, 2020, Governor Mike DeWine stepped to a lectern inside the Ohio statehouse to announce his most difficult pandemic decision. Ohio, the governor announced, would bar most spectators from the upcoming Arnold Classic, a bodybuilding and fitness festival hosted annually by Arnold Schwarzenegger that draws a quarter of a million people from 80 countries to Ohio’s capital city. “Everything in life is a risk,” DeWine said. “We all make calculated decisions. We don’t eliminate all risk in life. But with regard to the Arnold Classic, continuing it as planned was simply an unacceptable risk.”
Scrapping the Arnold was, at the time, an unprecedented move. It was the first such cancellation not only for Ohio, which didn’t yet have a single confirmed case of COVID-19, but for the entire country. The NBA was still playing games to packed arenas, and officials in California and elsewhere hadn’t yet started banning mass gatherings on account of the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus. “We’d joke during the pandemic later on, ‘Well, that seems like a no-brainer. Of course we would close that,’” DeWine recalled recently. “But when you do it and no one else is doing it …”
Over the next few weeks, DeWine would close schools, bars, restaurants, and other businesses, and, in a move that continues to draw condemnation from conservatives, postpone the March 17 presidential primary. The first-term Republican quickly became the nation’s most aggressive governor in confronting the pandemic. He acted faster in some respects than Democrats Gavin Newsom in California and Andrew Cuomo in New York, who was already winning acclaim for his daily televised briefings even as he delayed implementing far-reaching public-health restrictions. DeWine “did the right thing,” President Joe Biden, a former Senate colleague of his, said last year.
In a bygone era of American history—perhaps, say, 10 years ago—a big-state governor who earned bipartisan accolades for steering his state through a historic crisis would be cruising to reelection. DeWine has a sterling résumé: After winning his first House race in 1982, he has served as lieutenant governor, senator, attorney general, and now governor. He has been the ultimate Republican pragmatist, going as far right as necessary—but no further—to win and stay in office. Betty Montgomery, a Republican friend of DeWine’s who also served as Ohio’s attorney general, calls him “a governing Republican,” which reads as a compliment only in the context of the past several years of partisan warfare.
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