The Slatest

Unpopular Donald Trump Blames Popular John Kasich for GOP’s Near-Loss in Ohio

John Kasich outside the White House earlier this year, for probably the last time.
John Kasich outside the White House earlier this year, for probably the last time.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Hate to say it, but it appears our president may have tweeted inaccurate information Monday morning. In a little breather from his morning assault on Omarosa Manigault-Newman, President Trump offered the following commentary on the narrow result in last week’s Ohio special election.

The Ohio governor, who hasn’t ruled out a primary challenge to the president, responded with a GIF of Russian President Vladimir Putin laughing.

Heh? Eh.

What Trump meant to tweet was that he saw Kasich on the Sunday shows and didn’t appreciate what he heard. In a Meet the Press interview, Kasich—who had endorsed Balderson in a widely played ad—said that in spite of the (apparent) Republican win, it “wasn’t a good night, because this is a district that you should be winning by, you know, overwhelming numbers.” The close margin was “a message from the voters to the Republicans that you’ve got to stop the chaos and you’ve got to get more in tune and stop alienating people and try to figure out how do families do better.”

That interpretation did not support Trump’s interpretation that he had personally carried Balderson to a “great victory.” Instead, the president took it as a personal slight, and responded with these attacks on Kasich. They don’t really add up.

First, Kasich is not “very unpopular.” There hasn’t been much polling of his job approval this year, but it’s good. Failed presidential candidate, though, is absolutely correct.

But what about the assertion of Kasich “tamping down enthusiasm”? Another way to look at the situation would be that Trump failed to build enthusiasm among his voters.

The more rural counties in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District that broke the strongest for Balderson also had the poorest turnout. In Democrat Danny O’Connor’s strongest county in the district—Franklin—he won 97 percent of the votes that the Democratic candidate won in the district in 2016. In Balderson’s strongest county by margin, though, he won just 42 percent of the votes that ex-Rep. Pat Tiberi received in 2016. In his home county of Muskinghum, it was 48 percent. Overall turnout in the Franklin County portion of this district was 59 percent of what it was in the 2016 general election. Morrow was 46 percent, while Muskingham was 51 percent.

So what went wrong here? Could it be that Republicans in rural counties didn’t turn out because they were sick of seeing John Kasich’s face on television, or because Trump, with his visit to the district, failed to turn them out—but did mobilize Democrats to turn out against him? Maybe neither is an adequate explanation and there are structural factors at play. But the latter is more likely.

And that’s the story behind one of Trump’s tweets on Monday morning!