Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday provided a glimpse of how difficult it is to be a traditional Republican officeholder in the era of Trump.
The governor has been holding regular press briefings since the spring, when the coronavirus began tightening its deadly grip around the Buckeye State. But on Thursday, he started off by deploring Tuesday’s presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, which has been almost universally panned as an uncivil shout fest.
According to one count, the interruptions came at the rate of one a minute, and Trump was the interrupter 75% of the time. Trump also stirred controversy by refusing to condemn a right-wing hate group, unleashed a torrent of false claims about the integrity of the vote, and again refused to say that he would accept the independently certified results of an election that polls say he is currently losing.
On Thursday, DeWine reiterated his support for Trump while criticizing the debate generically.
“The debate itself was not our country’s finest hour,” the governor said, adding that “The name calling by both sides simply is not helpful,” and criticizing “hate groups of both the right and the left.”
That DeWine criticized the debate at all is a little jarring in light of his post-debate tweet.
— Mike DeWine (@MikeDeWine) September 30, 2020
The governor’s critics accused him of both-sides-ism, especially as he and Lt. Gov Jon Husted again sought to reassure Ohioans that their election system is safe and fair. After all, only one of the candidates — Trump — has railed relentlessly and without evidence that mail-in ballots are vulnerable to rampant fraud.
“We have run fair elections in Ohio for a long, long time and I think it’s important on both sides — let’s not presuppose that we’re going to have a problem when both parties have an interest in having a fair election,” DeWine said, adding, “Voters should have confidence in Ohio that their vote is going to get counted.”
During the debate, Trump also fanned worries about voter intimidation when he made unsupported claims of election stealing and urged supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully.”
Apparently responding to those worries, DeWine again couched his warning in terms of both sides.
“We have an obligation to make sure that people of the right and left who want to create a disturbance, who don’t believe in the rule of law, who believe that violence should take over, that that is dealt with,” he said.
Perhaps the most striking is DeWine’s unwillingness again to criticize Trump for refusing to say he’ll respect the independently certified results of the election. That refusal has aroused profound dismay among some observers of the international scene.
Asked last week if he condemned an earlier refusal by Trump to promise to abide by the results of the election, DeWine said, “I don’t condemn anything. I don’t know what’s in his heart or in his mind.”
Asked again whether he condemned Trump’s statements from last week as well as those from the debate, DeWine again declined.
“Whoever loses, once it’s determined that they’ve lost, they lose,” the governor said.
He talked about contested presidential elections in 1960 and 2000. In neither case did the losers, Richard Nixon and Al Gore, refuse in advance to say that they would respect the result, but DeWine cited those as precedents for this year’s contest.
“Whoever loses will concede,” He said. “This is what we do as Americans. This is what we do. This is what we expect and that’s the name of the game.”
Pressed further on whether he would criticize things Trump has said and done in recent weeks, DeWine betrayed how difficult his situation must be.
“Press conference after press conference, I get asked about different comments made by the president or somebody else,” the president’s Ohio co-chair said. “I’m not here to answer every single thing the president says.
“I think I’ve been very clear throughout my career and throughout my time as governor what I believe in and what we will do. It’s not just what I believe in. It’s not just what I say. And so we’ll continue to speak out against violence. We’ll continue to speak out against anything that disrupts the fairness of the election. We’ll continue to speak out against hatred, violence. That’s what my job is. My job is not every single day to critique the president of the United States, or is it to critique Joe Biden. If there’s another president in there in January I’ll have the same attitude.”