By John David Dyche
“Who can beat Hillary?” Republicans everywhere are asking that question.
Perhaps an even better query is, “Who would be the best president?” One possible answer is Rob Portman, junior U.S. Senator from Ohio.
Portman is “serious, credible and smart” says Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “So why isn’t there more Portman chatter,” he wonders.
Most Republicans probably do not even know who Portman is. He served in the House of Representatives, was U.S. Trade Representative and director of the Office of Management and Budget, portrays Democratic candidates to help Republicans prepare for debates, and enjoys broad bipartisan respect in the Senate.
To the extent people know Portman at all it is probably from when he changed his position to support same-sex marriage after his son came out as gay. At the time, The New Yorker described Portman as “the only sitting Republican senator to support marriage equality, as well as the highest-profile conservative currently in government to do so.”
In an op-ed in The Columbus Dispatch announcing his switch, Portman wrote: “I wrestled with how to reconcile my Christian faith with my desire for [my son] to have the same opportunities to pursue happiness and fulfillment as his brother and sister. Ultimately, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God. …
“We conservatives believe in personal liberty and minimal government interference in people’s lives. We also consider the family unit to be the fundamental building block of society. We should encourage people to make long-term commitments to each other and build families, so as to foster strong, stable communities and promote personal responsibility.
“One way to look at it is that gay couples’ desire to marry doesn’t amount to a threat but rather a tribute to marriage, and a potential source of renewed strength for the institution.”
This will not help him with certain segments of the GOP, of course, and may even pose an insuperable obstacle to the presidential nomination, but it shows both personal compassion and political courage.
Writing for Politico, current New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin described Portman as a “Bush man,” but said he was “much more closely aligned with the 41st president than with the 43rd.” Martin also quoted former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson, best known for his bipartisan budget-balancing efforts, as saying Portman could be described “in three words: Make things work.”
An association with the much-admired George H.W. Bush (but not the family name) and a penchant for the practical over the ideological are both pretty good qualities for a presidential candidate to possess right now. One thing Portman lacks, however, is charisma.
Barack Obama is blessed plenty of charisma, but been lacking in substance. After eight years of that voters just might be alright with a competent chief executive who may be a little bland.
Portman is relatively affluent when his party may be in a populist mood. An article by David Wolfford in The Weekly Standard described Portman’s background in a pretty palatable way, however.
“Growing up in Cincinnati’s east side, he developed a political philosophy grounded in entrepreneurship. Since 1926 his family has owned the Golden Lamb Inn in Lebanon, opened in 1803 and the oldest continuously operating business in the state. As a boy, he watched his father start his own heavy equipment sales company with five employees.”
Portman is an Ivy Leaguer, but Dartmouth, thankfully, instead of Harvard. He leavened that with a degree from Michigan Law School. Wolfford described Portman as having a “patient, rational, bipartisan persona.”
He calls his domestic policy agenda “constructive conservatism.” It resembles Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan’s approach. The elements are energy, healthcare, regulatory, tax, and trade reforms, along with anti-poverty efforts built on a “bottom up” instead of “top down” approach, evidence-based programs, best practices with proven results, and accountability.
Ohio’s soon-to-be easily reelected governor John Kasich is also believed to harbor White House hopes. Some see that as a problem for Portman, but another key Republican state, Texas, may also produce a pair of candidates in Governor Rick Perry and Senator Ted Cruz.
Various media have reported that Portman is pondering formation of a presidential exploratory committee so he can raise and spend money. He was recently in New Hampshire, which holds the first presidential primary.
Gannett publications quoted Portman, who is up for Senate reelection in 2016, as saying, “If I don’t see other candidates providing that (a strong Republican platform) who I believe could win a general election, I will take a look at it. But right now, I’m planning just to run for Senate in Ohio.”
Republicans can, and probably will, do worse than Portman when they pick the party’s next presidential nominee. Here’s hoping that they at least give him serious consideration.