Portman says Biden “likely” next president, says Trump’s behavior has been good for democracy

By: - November 23, 2020 1:44 pm

Ohio U.S. Sen. Rob Portman with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

Under growing national pressure, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman on Monday conceded that former Vice President Joe Biden is “likely” to be the next president of the United States. 

But Portman’s office continued to ignore questions about President Donald Trump’s attempts to get Republican-controlled legislatures to throw out votes and reverse the results of the Nov. 3 election, and he suggested that Trump’s spurious legal challenges have actually been good for democracy.

“Donald Trump is our president until Jan. 20, 2021, but in the likely event that Joe Biden becomes our next president, it is in the national interest that the transition is seamless and that America is ready on day one of a new administration for the challenges we face,” Portman wrote in an op-ed published by the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Ohio’s junior senator, who is up for reelection in 2022, did not criticize Trump’s legal strategy or his subsequent behavior. 

Trump and his team have spouted a raft of unsupported conspiracy theories while racking up loss after loss in the courts. According to a New York Times analysis, those theories often have one feature in common: They seek to overturn votes in cities with large Black populations. In other words, at the core of the strategy is disenfranchising Black voters.

“‘Democrat-led city’ — that’s code for Black,” the Times analysis quoted Rev. William J. Barber II, president of Repairers of the Breach, as saying. “They’re coupling ‘city’ and ‘fraud,’ and those two words have been used throughout the years. This is an old playbook being used in the modern time, and people should be aware of that.”

Rather than criticize Trump’s legal strategy, Portman’s op-ed praised it. 

“The Trump campaign has taken steps to insist that only lawful votes were counted in key states, including filing numerous lawsuits,” it said, explaining that most of those lawsuits have now been resolved. Then it adds, “There were instances of fraud and irregularities in this election, as there have been in every election. It is good that those have been exposed and any fraud or other wrongdoing should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, but there is no evidence as of now of any widespread fraud or irregularities that would change the result in any state.”

Portman and many other Senate Republicans have come under withering fire for their silence as Trump’s attempts to escape electoral defeat have become increasingly desperate.

Long before the election, Trump repeatedly refused to say he’d abide by the results if he lost. But most prominent Republicans refused to criticize him.

On Nov. 5, as Trump’s loss appeared increasingly likely and as he ramped up efforts to throw out votes cast against him, historian Michael Beschloss tweeted that history would be watching how people in power reacted. 

On Thursday, Trump’s legal team held a surreal press conference that was heavy on conspiracy theories but light on evidence. At the same time that Trump’s lawyers were alleging a plot involving a long-dead Venezuelan strongman, Trump was pressuring Michigan lawmakers to throw out votes in heavily Black Detroit.

Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney obviously had had enough. 

Through the weekend, as observers worried that Trump was breaking down vital norms and profoundly undermining faith in American democracy, Portman’s staff ignored a request for comment on Romney’s tweet.

Then on Sunday night, legendary reporter Carl Bernstein called Portman out by name, saying he and other GOP senators privately espoused disdain for Trump but avoided crossing him in public — presumably out of fear of getting crosswise with Trump’s base.

“We have a president of the United States for the first time in our history sabotaging his country,” Bernstein said in a Friday appearance on CNN. “Will these Republicans continue to allow this for another day? Because every day it appears more and more that our system cannot handle, was not designed… to handle an aberrant, mad king.” 

Bernstein added that he believed the country is in more danger now than it was at the end of the presidency of Richard Nixon, which Bernstein helped to end with his coverage of the Watergate scandal.

As part of a series of tweets, Bernstein said, “The 21 GOP Senators who have privately expressed their disdain for Trump are: Portman, Alexander, Sasse, Blunt, Collins, Murkowski, Cornyn, Thune, Romney, Braun, Young, Tim Scott, Rick Scott, Rubio, Grassley, Burr, Toomey, McSally, Moran, Roberts, Shelby.”

Then he added, “With few exceptions, their craven public silence has helped enable Trump’s most grievous conduct—including undermining and discrediting the U.S. electoral system.”

On Monday morning, as Portman was publishing his op-ed, his office ignored questions about Bernstein’s criticism as well.

And rather than criticizing Trump’s false claims of voter fraud, Portman claimed that the president’s recent behavior has been good for American democracy.

“Based on polling, a substantial majority of the nearly 74 million Americans who supported President Trump question the legitimacy of the election,” the op-ed said. “I believe going through a fair and transparent process to ensure the election was properly decided is important for our democracy and to help heal our polarized country.”



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Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He's won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.