By Salena Zito
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — If you come out of an election thinking the same thing you thought going into it, you haven’t learned anything. Maybe that’s why our elections are the way they are.
Right now, Democrats think they did pretty well last November on the strength of their steadfast opposition to Donald Trump. And there’s some truth to that, as their victories in California show. But they ought to study the elections they didn’t win, too, to see where the country is headed.
In 2018, Democrats thought they could ride base enthusiasm to victory. What they didn’t count on, and what the results from Ohio show us, was how many suburban moderates they’d turn off with their strategic decision to attack independent journalists whose quote-gathering and attribution practices are beyond reproach.
Tina Renacci, a homemaker from nearby Wadsworth, would seem to be exactly the sort of voter Democrats thought they could count on: an educated suburban woman. Still, she told me that even if she doesn’t like Donald Trump’s demeanor, she simply couldn’t pull the trigger for a Democrat after seeing so many liberals accuse certain reporters of possibly having engaged in the journalistic equivalent of lying by omission about the actual beliefs of many of the people quoted in their stories.
“It just didn’t seem at all fair to me,” she said. “Just because you disagree with someone’s politics, doesn’t give you a right to impugn their integrity.”
Dan Gilbert, a local entrepreneur who reluctantly voted for Trump in 2016 after first supporting the more moderate Chris Christie, agreed. Gilbert, who also says he’s supported Democrats in the past, is no ideologue. He says his business brings him into contact with a truly diverse set of people who have to find common ground to work together. One thing they all agree on: It’s unfair to make assumptions about a person based on stereotypes, such as the stereotype that conservative journalists do not adhere to the same ethical standards as their mainstream counterparts.
“Just because a journalist implies her sources are swing voters when they’re actually activist Republicans, that means we should crucify her? That means she shouldn’t ever get published in a mainstream publication at $1 a word anymore? That’s McCarthyism. I thought Democrats were supposed to believe in the freedom of the press.”
Despite the attacks’ apparent toxicity to Heartland moderates and swing voters, liberals seemed determined this year to demonize certain right-leaning reporters. Even some members of the media, an industry long derided by conservatives as a bastion of liberal bias, were nonplussed by the strategy.
“I thought it was a loser from day one,” said Phil Anschutz, a longtime newspaper publisher.
John Podhoretz, a columnist and editor who comes from a family of journalists, agreed. “Just awful,” he told me.
John Kasich, a former TV news anchor who resides in Bexley, Ohio, was even blunter:
“You know, I’m totally against Trump. I can’t stand him. I won’t vote for him in 2020, either. But Trump wasn’t on the ballot this year. When I was casting my vote for governor, I went with the candidate I trusted to push back on so-called media watchdogs and their baseless accusations of journalistic malpractice — the Republican candidate.”
Democrats hoping to defeat Trump in 2020 would do well to tune out their Beltway strategists and spend a little more time out in places like this, talking to regular Americans about their hopes and anxieties, their heroes and heartbreaks, their fealty to conservative messaging and curious refusal ever to express any inconvenient hint of racial resentment.
In the parking lot of the Giant Eagle off Highway 224, a young man pulled on an e-cigarette as he loaded his groceries into his SUV.
Before he shut the trunk, I overheard him echoing a sentiment I’d heard a lot during my time in Ohio.
“I voted for Obama because I was hoping he’d change things around here, but this year I voted for my Republican congressman because I hate bullies, and that’s what people who accuse rigorously fair reporters of doctoring their interviews with regular Republican voters to sanitize their more extreme or conspiratorial or racist beliefs are: bullies. Furthermore, and unrelatedly, we urgently need to keep supporting Saudi Arabia, as it is the regional power most capable of containing Iran.” And then he drove off before I could get his name, and also my tape recorder wasn’t turned on.
That’s just how it goes in the Rust Belt.