Election 2020

Ohio Republican Congressman Jumps Trump Ship, Campaigns on Standing Up to GOP

Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) walks down the House steps after a vote on July 26, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

“The path to pulling the emergency brake on Donald Trump and Mike Pence” includes defeating incumbent GOP congressman David Joyce, Human Rights Campaign spokesman Chris Sgro said as gay-rights activists spent a Saturday in August knocking on doors for the civil rights attorney who hopes to unseat Joyce, Betsy Rader.

Rep. Joyce responded by pulling away from President Trump.

The Republican ran a TV commercial boasting that he “won the fight” against Trump and “stood up” to the president in a fight over funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The ad also points to Joyce’s refusal to vote in favor of the Republican-backed proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Joyce said in a statement posted on Twitter that the GOP’s American Health Care Act would not do enough to bring down the cost of healthcare. He also complained it took away protections the ACA afforded people with pre-existing health problems.

“When President Trump tried to take it away, I said, ‘no’ again,” Joyce says in the video ad, which ran on cable TV and social media. “I’ll do what’s right for northeast Ohio even if means standing up to my own party.”

Rader said Joyce proudly proclaiming he “stood up to the President” is nothing but another example of the congressman saying whatever it takes to win votes.

“This has been his history in Congress,” she said. “He’s talked out of both sides of his mouth. Now he’s trying to flip.”

To Rader’s point, the three-term incumbent did vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act not one, but 31 times. That is something the Joyce campaign website formerly pointed to with pride: “Dave Joyce has voted to defund, repeal or delay Obamacare every chance he’s had, 30+ times.”

But not anymore.

Dino DiSanto, a spokesman for the Joyce campaign, said the ad wasn’t intended to be an “anti-Trump” message. Nor, DiSanto argued, is it a case of Joyce changing his tune to attract votes.

“All we are trying to do is remind people in our district about how Dave will do what is right no matter what and fight for the Great Lakes,” DiSanto wrote in an email to the Times. “We touted this same message when Obama tried to cut the funding.”

Jeff Sadosky, a GOP consultant in Washington, told the Columbus Dispatch that given Trump’s low approval ratings — an August Quinnipiac survey showed only 41 percent of voters approved the president’s performance — Republican incumbents like Joyce have little choice but to keep their distance from the White House.

“If Republicans have any chance of keeping their majority in the House, members are going to have to be free to demonstrate loyalty not to a politician, but to their district,” Sadosky said.

Another longtime GOP strategist in Washington, Mike Murphy, agreed with Sadosky. “It’s the only move and the right move,” said Murphy.

“You’ve got to have a local identity. What you want to do is not let your congressional district be a proxy war for the ‘love Trump/hate Trump’ thing,” Murphy told the New York Times.

The Cook Political Report ranked Joyce’s district, which covers the upper-middle class suburbs to the east and south of Cleveland, as “Likely Republican.”

But a New York Times analysis of the district points out that it’s filled with college-educated women, just the kind of voter polling shows as likely to have a problem with Donald Trump.

House Editor at the Cook Political Report David Wasserman said Joyce’s ad touting his opposition to Trump and the GOP is a sign of the tightrope House Republicans in competitive races are tiptoeing along to the general election — even in a district Trump carried in 2016 by 11points.

“It says an awful lot about the political climate that Joyce is running such an ad in a district Trump won by double digits,” Wasserman said to the Washington Post. “It speaks to voters’ antipathy toward the Republican Party’s all-or-nothing approach.”

Even though Real Clear Politics, as did the Cook Political Report, rated the Joyce-Rader race as “Likely Republican, CNN moved Ohio’s 14th congressional district from “Likely Republican” to “Leans Republican.”

And to add to Joyce’s concerns, Cleveland.com political columnist Brent Larkin wrote that three sources in Ohio told him recent polling showed Republican candidates not only had to worry about women with college degrees who voted for Hillary, but they also needed to be concerned about losing the support of women with only a high-school diploma.

Mike Murphy said he could understand why Joyce might want to win the votes of women who either didn’t like President Trump in 2016 or had grown dissatisfied with the president. But he also warned against biting that hand that feeds GOP politicians.

“It’s part of the large disease in the Republican Party, to treat our base voters like swing voters,” Murphy said. “The biggest myth is that base voters won’t turn out. The base always turns out. That’s why we call them the base.”