Ohio Senate race is a Trump-era tragedy
Bernie Moreno should have been a candidate. Instead, he dropped out of the race for the Ohio Senate seat after spending millions of his own money and never even reaching fifth place in the Republican primary polls. It’s a story with a lesson, a very sad lesson.
Moreno, 54, declared himself last year for the seat now held by Ohio Republican Rob Portman. Portman’s seat was previously held by former Cleveland Mayor George Voinovich, another Republican; before Voinovich, by former astronaut John Glenn, a Democrat; before John Glenn, by real estate developer Howard Metzenbaum, also a Democrat.
Moreno was a candidate in the mold of those predecessors. Like them, he was extremely accomplished in private life. In his case, he built one of the nation’s largest car dealership networks, then in 2018 founded an Ohio-based tech incubator, Ownum. Prior to joining the Republican primary, Moreno, like those former senators from Ohio, espoused fundamentally moderate politics. He backed John Kasich as governor in 2010 and 2014, then Marco Rubio as president in 2016. It wasn’t until the last minute that Moreno realized he had to board the train of radicalism and Trump’s nihilism. His catch jump was spectacular and spectacularly unsuccessful.
On November 7, 2020, Moreno tweeted his congratulations to newly elected President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on their “hard-fought victory.” In a separate tweet, he urged his fellow Republicans to accept the 140 million vote cast decision. He used the hashtag #ElectionisOver, and urged unity and an eye on rebuilding for the future. Moreno has since deleted those tweets. But he could never bring himself to endorse Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen election.
Bernie Moreno instead made his career in the United States. He quickly rose through the ranks at General Motors. He purchased an underperforming Mercedes-Benz dealership outside of Cleveland and successfully built one of the largest auto dealership networks in the nation.
Moreno was appalled by the rise of Donald Trump. Even after Trump cemented the nomination in 2016, Moreno refused to be associated with the outcome. He acknowledged that Trump could beat Hillary Clinton. He didn’t care. In protest, he stopped donating to national Republican campaigns. “Since I see a future where the asset [sic] is the leader of what was my party, I got sidelined,” he wrote to a fundraising consultant. “I will support individual candidates, but I cannot support a party led by this maniac.” Trump, he added, was a “party-invading lunatic.”
In debates and speeches, Moreno sometimes allowed glimpses of his earlier, more reasonable and less polarizing self to emerge. But more often than not, he struggled to match the rage and resentment doctored by the two favorites, Josh Mandel and JD Vance. “This is an intentional invasion of our country,” Moreno said of asylum seekers on the southern border at a candidates’ forum in October 2021. He cheered when Mandel said the elections of 2020 had been “stolen” from Trump.
To pitch himself to Ohio voters, Moreno launched one of the most expensive ad campaigns in the history of the state’s mostly self-funded primary politics. His TV ads juxtaposed his own personal feel-good story — shot in his beautiful home, alongside his wife and four children — with searing denunciations of “socialism” and “cancellation culture.” One ad was called “Buckle Up,” and it was an apt name because it offered a choppy, jerky experience that would never be tolerated in one of the fine Mercedes automobiles that Moreno sells. He opened the spot by telling the touching story of his family’s arrival in America. Then the soft guitar music abruptly turns into angry horns. The family came, Moreno explained, to escape the socialism of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, violent dictators “just like Bernie Sanders and AOC”. And so on. Back to strumming guitars. He is a job creator! Back to the Horns: He’s Fighting Cancel Culture! A husband and father who wants to preserve the American dream of scary brunette women in hijabs and window-breaking antifa!
The Ohio candidates are all, of course, huge imposters. Mandel, the frontrunner, also backed Marco Rubio over Trump in 2016. Jane Timken, a Harvard-educated lawyer who married into one of Ohio’s most prominent business dynasties, follows a bit behind. One of his step-uncles served as ambassador to Germany under President George W. Bush; she donated to Kasich’s 2016 presidential race. Now her campaign ads portray her as an “America First” “Trump conservative” who “ripped apart the Kasich establishment.” As for the national media phenomenon JD Vance; Well, readers of Atlantic know his story.
But some of the candidates have weaker gag reflexes than others and can better stifle all the toads that need to be swallowed to be viable in post-Trump Ohio politics. Moreno couldn’t fake enough enthusiasm to eat toads, and so he walked out. But even in defeat, the humiliations did not stop.
Moreno ended his campaign by flying to Mar-a-Lago. In a written statement, Moreno explained that the race contained too many “Trump candidates” and pledged his support, not to the winner of the vote, but to the candidate who won Donald Trump’s endorsement. In return, he received a condescending pat on the head.
“I was very impressed with Bernie who was tough on illegal immigration which after the Biden disaster at the border became a big issue for all candidates,” Trump said in a statement. “He’s done a lot for Ohio and loves his state and our great MAGA movement. His decision will help make the MAGA ticket win BIG because he’s all over the country. Thank you, Bernie, for your support and keep it up. to fight!
One can only imagine what Moreno thinks of these backhanded compliments from a man he once described as crazy. Perhaps he would feel better about his race, his exit and the millions he has spent if he had allowed himself to publicly express his true feelings towards the leader of his party.