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Washington Post’s Robert Costa On Rob Portman’s Hand In The Selection Of Cleveland As The GOP’s Convention Host City

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HH: Joining me now is Robert Costa of the Washington Post, who had a very interesting piece in the Post today after the announcement, because coming up after break, Bob, we’ve got Rob Portman joining me. I just talked to Reince Priebus about this. And you put the finger, and you point towards Rob Portman as the man behind the scenes on getting Cleveland the big win.

RC: I think he was one of several important players. And I think Portman, more than a lot of other people realize, perhaps, is looking toward 2016. He’s a possible contender.

HH: That is also the interesting part of the Costa report, acknowledging a flurry of encouragement from Mitt Romney and powerful insiders as well as his own burgeoning ambition. Portman said he has been contemplating a 2016 presidential bid for some time. Now that, you know, that’s going to bring him into direct competition with John Kasich. What’s their relationship like?

RC: I think they’re cordial. They’re politically, they’re allies politically, but I don’t think there’s any real deep friendship there. They are both fighting the same fight, but I don’t think Kasich’s thinking is going to impact Portman’s as much as maybe even Jeb Bush or Christie’s would. I think Portman’s trying to fit a certain slot. He knows he could fit it. He has a lot of establishment support, and Kasich, I think, is not as much a part of his calculus as we may think.

HH: Now Robert, you know your presidential history pretty well. So do I. But I can’t think of a parallel situation where we would have had, if 2016 develops into the wide open field with Ted Cruz and Rick Perry, and Rob Portman and John Kasich, and maybe even Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, I can’t think of any election where two candidates from the same state were top tier candidates, much less two states, much less three states. Can you?

RC: I know, and Rick Perry and Ted Cruz, I mean, it’s really unreal how so many of these states are becoming power bases for the party. I think Portman, though, he’s an interesting figure, because 1) he was able to help get Cleveland to be tapped for the convention site. But 2) he has a position on marriage that’s really divergent from the rest of the party. He switched his position last year after his son, Will, became, announced that he was gay. And this really puts him at odds with a lot of social conservatives. But when I spoke with Portman, he really tried to remind me that he’s pro-life, that he’s been anti-abortion for much of his career, his whole career, and he hopes people remember that.

HH: You know, I wouldn’t hold that against Rob Portman. Absolutely not. I mean, we disagree on that issue, but I don’t really know many social conservatives who would, do you?

RC: Well, I just spoke with Russell Moore, one of the most influential Southern Baptists, and he said that someone like Portman with that position’s not going to find a lot of support among Evangelicals. So there is, I think, a bloc out there that would just, they may respect Portman personally, but they would be opposed to him.

HH: That’s interesting to me. I’m going to have to ask Russell Moore about that, because I just don’t believe that many people would choose not to support Portman who would otherwise support Portman because of that issue. I mean, they might disagree with him vigorously, but there’s a sense in my world that issue is not going to define people’s decision on who’s electable. Let me ask you, though, about Cleveland generally, Bob. I’m so happy about this, because it’s hometown, right? The only better place they could put it is Warren. And you know, do you think, in fact, that the anticipation of back to back to back World Series, Super Bowl and NBA titles may have had something to do with this?

RC: No, I think none of that had anything to do with it. This all comes down to one thing. I was on YouTube the other day, and I saw all this video of Hugh Hewitt standing in front of the Lakefront making this little argument to Reince Priebus, one of the strangest videos I’ve ever seen. But I think it sealed the deal.

HH: I’m sure that did it. Now but it is a great thing to invade. Cuyahoga County is deep blue. I’m sure you know this as well as anyone. The only guy that they could send to Cuyahoga County or the environs of Northeastern Ohio was Chris Christie, interestingly enough, in 2012 when they needed a surrogate up in that part of the state. They would send in Chris Christie. So they’re going right into the heart of Democratic Party meat and potatoes land, Robert Costa. It’s a very, very gutsy move.

RC: It is, and I think the decision by Priebus to do this is probably the most significant move he’s made as party chairman, and it really gives us for the first time in his tenure something substantive and revealing about his vision and his strategy ahead of the next presidential election. And we’re really seeing Priebus trying to embrace the rustbelt, highlight the Republican governors like Snyder in Michigan, Walker in Wisconsin, Corbett, even, in Pennsylvania, Kasich in Ohio. And he doesn’t want the Republican Party to lose that as one of their key parts of the country ahead of the next election.

HH: That’s very, very, very observant. I think that Priebus is one of the more significant, at least since Mehlman, and maybe even as far back as Haley Barbour, because not only moving the convention forward, and I think his preferred date is June 28th, he’s a little sly on that, but also, he’s raised a lot of dough and retired the debt, that he’s changed the primary rules, and he’s going to change the debate rules, Robert Costa. So the Priebus reforms are going to end up being hugely significant in this cycle.

RC: I have to agree. I think it’s been surprising to see Priebus over the last few years. I think in a lot of ways, he’s been one of the most low key chairmen. He does not have much of a national presence. And it’s taken him a while to kind of get traction within the party beyond his loyalists within the RNC. But with his decision on debates, his combative nature with the media, his decision to go to Cleveland for the convention, we’re seeing Priebus ascend in a sense, and really solidify not only his power, but his own outlook and trying to put that on the party. And I think it’s something that’s taken time to define itself, but it’s certainly there now.

HH: You know, there’s a good profile waiting to be written about him. I’ll bet you Robert Costa will be the guy to do it.

RC: I was just talking about that. I think that’s so true.

HH: Yeah.

RC: It really has.

HH: Go ahead.

RC: No, you’re right. It hasn’t been told. The story of where he’s gone over the past few years really, the dots haven’t been fully connected. But there’s something going on there beyond the retiring of the debt, beyond being the not-Michael-Steele guy. There’s something about the rustbelt, about him being from Wisconsin, him speaking about poverty, going to these communities where Republicans aren’t quite popular, and trying to do something there.

HH: He has a very good common touch. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen him work a room.

RC: Yes.

HH: But he can work Wall Street, but he can also work Main Street. And he can work a factory floor. My question is, in the presidential race, is it assumed that he can stay neutral if Scott Walker and/or Paul Ryan are in? There’s another state with two people that are top tier candidates. That’s amazing. That’s four states with two people who are top tier candidates. Wow, but is he neutral enough for everybody else?

RC: Maybe not enough for some. I think he’s very close with Ryan, and he’s very close with Walker. But he doesn’t have the persona and the position of being someone who’s always about Wisconsin. He’s not someone who’s looking to be going back to Wisconsin and be a power there. He’s trying to be a person who’s leading the national party. I think Priebus knows how to have that balance. And he’s just not someone who comes across as all about Wisconsin all the time. He’s, of course, a booster for the state, but I think he’ll be impartial in that sense.

HH: Yeah, Robert Costa, I look forward to reading more of your analysis on this. The piece that Robert wrote, I’ve tweeted out over at, follow me on Hughhewitt.com or on Twitter. And @costareports is his Twitter handle. Thank you, Robert.

End of interview.

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