What will it take for President Donald J. Trump’s hard - core supporters, including many in the Mahoning Valley, to abandon him or, at the very least, think twice about their allegiance to him?
Area Congressman Tim Ryan, who also enjoys strong political support in this region, seems to believe that the Republican president’s bromance with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin could be a political deal-breaker.
Ryan, a 16-year member of the House of Representatives, was a guest last week on Wolf Blitzer’s show on CNN and was asked about Trump’s embrace of Putin.
Here’s the exchange:
Blitzer: Let me get your reaction to the president of the United States congratulating Russian President Vladimir Putin for his election win for another six years.
Ryan: The president needs to realize that Vladimir Putin is trying to destroy the United States of America. He’s trying to destroy our democracy. He’s trying to destroy our electoral system. He’s aiming and targeting the very fabric of our society. That’s our political elections, our presidential elections. And I come from a pretty pragmatic place outside of Youngstown, Ohio, and I think the average person sitting there watching the president of the United States handle Vladimir Putin with kid gloves, like he’s doing right now, given everything Russia is trying to do, there would be a lot of questions about that kind of behavior.
Blitzer: So you agree, I assume, with Senator John McCain, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, who said in this tough statement, “An American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections.” Are you with Senator McCain on that?
Ryan: One thousand percent. This is like congratulating Saddam Hussein when he got 98 percent of the vote in his Iraqi elections. He [Putin] has a state-controlled media. He cracks down on his political opponents in Russia. He doesn’t let anyone get a word in edgewise with regard to a free and open discussion about the future of the Russian people. And of course he’s going to win by a substantial margin. And then to congratulate him, I think, shows how out of touch the president is. It’s really sad that he doesn’t engage properly, like a president should. It’s also scary because of Russians’ intentions in the Ukraine, in Syria, allowing the gassing of innocent people in Syria, trying to disrupt us any way they can, their partnership with Iran, and on and on, all the different ways Vladimir Putin is operating against the interests of the United States, against the interests of a lawful global society, and the president congratulates him. It’s not good.
Blitzer: I want to get to some other issues, but why do you think President Trump is so relatively nice to Putin?
Ryan: We’re going to have to wait for all the details. Those of us have some hunches as to what’s going on here. But I think the best thing we can do is let [Special Counsel Robert] Mueller continue to do his investigation. It seems like, with the indictments of 13 people associated with Russia, in a deep way that he’s trying to peel the onion back, and we need to let him do his job. And then it may get revealed to us exactly why President Trump is handling him [Putin] with kid gloves. But I will say, in the heartland, people would be very skeptical and say, there’s something up here.
Congressman Ryan’s 13th District, which includes most of Mahoning and Trumbull counties and portions of Portage, Stark and Summit counties, defines the heartland.
In the 2016 presidential election, Trump, who was the Republican standard-bearer, but ran a non-traditional Republican campaign, connected with voters in the Valley because of his America First agenda, especially on the issues of trade and immigration.
Blue-collar white male residents, many of whom blame the dumping of cheap foreign-made steel for the demise of the steel industry in this area, were swayed by Trump’s promise to restore America’s manufacturing might by reopening the huge steel mills that once dotted the banks of the Mahoning River.
Trump, the billionaire real-estate developer from New York City, carried predominantly Democratic Trumbull County over Democrat Hillary Clinton, 49,024 to 43,014 votes.
In Mahoning County, also a Democratic stronghold, Clinton barely won, 57,381 to 53,616 votes.
During the campaign, the shot-and-a-beer crowd didn’t care that Trump boasted about grabbing women by their lady parts and now don’t care that women are coming forward claiming they had affairs with him.
They also didn’t give a hoot that his company had filed for bankruptcy four times, leaving many small businessmen and -women in financial dire straits. And they ignored the fact that he had business interests all over the world, including in China and Russia.
All they cared about was that the political outsider was going to “Make America Great Again.”
Thus the question: Will Trump’s fawning over Putin diminish the support he enjoys in the Mahoning Valley?
The answer can be seen through the prism of their self-interest. They are reveling in the fact that the president has imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum from select countries, including China, and just last week ordered tariffs on about $60 billion of Chinese goods.
The Chinese government has said it will retaliate, but many of Trump’s supporters have been spoiling for a trade war for years, going all the way back to the days of the late Valley Congressman James A. Traficant Jr.
Traficant, the son of a truck driver and champion of the working class, made “Buy American” his political cause celebre in Congress.
Traficant’s supporters are now Trump’s supporters. They’re less worried about the president embracing a Commie than they are about the creation of high-paying manufacturing jobs.