Payback Time: Trump Helps Oust Kasich Loyalist from Ohio GOP Chairman Job
Matt Borges, the Ohio Republican Party chairman who publicly feuded with President-elect Trump during the campaign, has lost the top job in the state's GOP after being voted out by the state central committee on Friday. Borges will be replaced by Jane Timken, a relative unknown, who received support from Trump.
A headline at Cleveland.com read: "Donald Trump gets revenge by dismantling Gov. John Kasich's Ohio Republican Party machine." Few GOP insiders would disagree with that assessment. Kasich lobbied hard on behalf of the incumbent Borges, who has run the Ohio GOP since 2013, to remain as chairman, but party leadership seemed to indicate by their votes on Friday that Trump now carries more clout in the state than Ohio's governor.
Kasich and Borges are close allies, and many complained that Borges gave Ohio's governor preferential treatment during the primary. Once Trump became the nominee there were internal squabbles about who would pay for Trump's campaign expenses in Ohio, which caused tension between the state party and the national campaign. The high-profile defections—Governor Kasich and Senator Rob Portman refused to support the GOP nominee—added to the tensions. (Portman technically endorsed Trump but refused to campaign with him and declined to speak at the Republican convention.) Borges stuck with Kasich, perhaps assuming Trump would lose, leaving Kasich well-positioned for 2020. (Literally no one else agreed with this assessment, but Borges never wavered in his support for Kasich.) Hedging his bets, Borges—the head of Ohio's GOP remember—very publicly distanced himself from Trump. The Dispatch listed some of Borges' sins against the GOP nominee in an October 16 article:
- He wasn’t sure whom he would vote for in the presidential race.
- He had excused Ohio GOP officeholders, such as Sen. Rob Portman and Auditor Dave Yost, who decided they could no longer back Trump.
- He couldn’t put a Trump sign in his yard because of his wife’s distaste for the Republican standard-bearer.
- When asked about his possible non-support for Trump, Borges had told The Dispatch: “How can I? Trump could still conceivably withdraw. If another shoe drops, he almost has to. And we are all standing by, shell shocked, waiting for it to come.”
- And excusing officeholders running from Trump is proper, Borges said, “because, I don't believe it's the party's role to punish anyone for following their conscience.” He made the same case in a mailing to Republican National Committee members.
Kasich ended all doubts about whether he would support Trump with a statement last weekend saying, “I will not vote for a nominee who has behaved in a manner that reflects so poorly on our country. Our country deserves better.”
Borges tweeted that he agreed with Portman and Kasich.
Borges said he has warned Trump in personal phone calls to run a more disciplined campaign, minus the personal attacks.
The Trump campaign, of course, fought back. Robert Paduchik, Trump's Ohio campaign director, sent a scathing letter to the GOP central committee criticizing Borges.
“Mr. Trump told me, ‘This is why people have lost faith in the establishment and party leaders,’” Paduchik wrote to the 66-member group that elected Borges.
"For the record, Chairman Borges has routinely exaggerated his relationship with the candidate and the campaign," Paduchik wrote. "Chairman Borges does not represent or speak for the candidate and no longer has any affiliation with the Trump-Pence campaign."
Not the kind of thing you want to see three weeks out from Election Day, but then, nothing about the 2016 campaign followed the rulebooks. In the end, Trump won Ohio as did every other Republican who ran for statewide office—as they did in 2014 under Borges' leadership, by wide margins. By objective measures—if you're looking at numbers alone—Borges has been an extremely successful party leader. But for Trump, it's all about loyalty.
On December 18 Paduchik announced that Trump was backing a challenger to Borges for Ohio Republican Party chairman. From Cleveland.com:
"President-elect Trump supports Jane Timken to be the next chairman of the ORP. He has directed me to assist her campaign and has offered his support as needed," Paduchik wrote in the email, a copy of which was forwarded to cleveland.com.
Paduchik's email also reprises his past criticism of Borges, who is close to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a prominent Trump critic, for not being sufficiently supportive of Trump during the 2016 campaign. Paduchik in mid-October took the remarkable step of cutting ties with Borges, publicly accusing him of soft-pedaling his support of Trump as part of a planned future bid for the the Republican National Committee chairmanship. As he did in October, Paduchik on Sunday shared with committee members news articles -- including a story from cleveland.com -- in which Borges expressed ambivalence over Trump while saying he was working to help him win Ohio.
"Ohio's victory was made unnecessarily more difficult because of Chairman Borges' failure to support and defend our nominee," Paduchik wrote. "At times, Chairman Borges' comments to the press were hostile and played into the narrative of the Clinton campaign's message."
Grassroots leaders—tea party members and social conservatives in particular—have been critical of Borges over the years for the way he's used (some say abused) his chairmanship to help Kasich consolidate power. The state central committee has been stacked with Kasich loyalists during Borges' tenure and the party expends significant resources to protect the seats of incumbents during primaries, sometimes viciously smearing fellow Republicans in the process.
It worked well for Kasich and his cronies until Kasich made the fatal mistake of refusing to endorse Trump during the general election. While it's true that he stacked the state central committee with individuals who were loyal to him, Kasich didn't count on Trump winning Ohio. Ultimately, the Kasich loyalists are Republican loyalists and they expected their governor to step up and vote for the nominee. His failure to do so left him—and Borges—weakened, which set the stage for Friday's shake-up.
Jane Timken, a Stark County attorney and member of a prominent family of Republican donors, told members of the central committee ahead of the vote that the Ohio Republican Party can't afford to have a chair who "picks and chooses" which GOP candidates to support.
Central committee member Pat Flanagan, reportedly said in his nomination speech for Timken that she would be able to call Trump and quickly get a reply from him.
Trump personally called several central committee members urging them to vote for Timken; Kellyanne Conway also worked the phones on her behalf.
Cuyahoga County Republican Party Chairman Rob Frost told Cleveland.com, "I think those calls were received well." He added that he thinks they made a difference.
At first, it seemed like Borges might prevail. The first two votes were deadlocked. But after a closed-door meeting, the candidates emerged and Borges announced that he was withdrawing his name in exchange for being named chairman emeritus of the party. It wasn't announced what the job will entail.
Not much is known about Timken's political views, aside from the fact that she supported Trump. She will take the helm of a party that is still nursing wounds from the bruising 2016 election and is looking ahead to a contentious gubernatorial election in 2018 when Kasich will be term-limited out. Several candidates, including former Senator Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Jon Husted, and Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor, have already expressed interest in running.