A view from Ohio: Rob Portman vs. Ted Strickland

There is a major element in the Republican establishment that is urging its congressional candidates to distance themselves from Donald Trump, the party's presumptive presidential candidate, lest Republicans suffer defeat in November.

This is bad advice for Ohio's sitting senator, Rob Portman, who is running against former governor Ted Strickland, a Democrat.

Current polls show that the Portman-Strickland race is neck-and-neck, even though Strickland was a disaster in his stint as governor of Ohio.  Most recent polls show Portman up by a mere half of a percent, which bodes ill for an incumbent.

One of the reasons for the tightness of this race is that Strickland is skillfully highlighting Portman's record of supporting eight "free" trade bills and for granting China most favorable trading status.  Such attacks resonate in Ohio. 

This is not negative advertising, by the way.  It is factual and is a legitimate issue.  This is something I say as one who would loathe to see the Democrats capture the Senate.

As Trump has been saying, these so-called "free" trade initiatives, which the political class has concocted, are not "fair" in any sense of the word.  Both by design and through implementation, those trade agreements skew the advantage to the underdeveloped world (Mexico, China, etc.) at the expense of the middle and lower middle class in America. 

Our elites know this.  But they look at the hurt of our middle class as 1) not affecting them or their families personally and 2) part of the cost of constructing their precious New World Order.

These trade agreements have mightily benefited the upper echelon here while at the same time hollowing out America's manufacturing base.  Free trade is a major reason why real income has stagnated and wealth inequality has grown so.  

Indeed, one of Strickland's TV ads call Portman the best senator China ever had – an exaggeration, to be sure, but effective nonetheless.

In this election environment, it would behoove Portman to take up Trump's call to finally put America first in trade agreements.  He must also run away as fast as he can from the Republican establishment's call for soft immigration policies and its support for President Obama's disastrous Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement . 

The best way for Portman to repudiate his record on give-away trade agreements would be to publicly embrace Trump, who will do surprisingly well in Ohio, and turn his back on the establishment call of the likes of House speaker Paul Ryan.

Such an epiphany would not be out of character for Rob Portman.  In March 2013, he surprised his supporters by coming out for same-sex marriage after being against it for his entire career.  As the senator wrote in an op-ed, "[t]his isn't how I always felt. As a congressman and senator, I opposed marriage for same-sex couples. Then something happened that led me to think through my position in a much deeper way."

That "something" was Portman's 21-year-old son Will announcing that he was homosexual.

If Portman can do a 180 on such an issue as same-sex marriage, he can do the same about his past trade positions.  He can say he thought through his past positions on trade in a much deeper way and can now see the harm they have inflicted on not just Ohio, but also America in general. 

I fear that unless Portman demonstrates a change of heart on trade and makes it known, it is he who will be out of work come January, and the country will be that much closer to the disaster of having a Democrat-controlled Senate.