Politics

Trump will not be the Republican nominee

A photo collage showing former Senator Rob Portman and former President Donald Trump both standing at microphones.

Former Senator Rob Portman and former President Donald Trump. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Patrick Semansky/AP, Alon Skuy/AFP via Getty Images)

When Rob Portman announced his retirement from the Senate two years ago, it was taken as another sign that Congress went to the dogs.

Portman, an Ohio Republican, knew how Washington was working — or should be working — to solve national challenges, and grew increasingly irritated that it wasn’t doing so.

Two years later, there is a hint of cruelty in Portman’s description of the time, admitting he was surprised by the productivity of Congress in his final months.

“I felt the urge to be at home more and I became more frustrated with the inability to get things done,” Portman said of her decision to leave in an interview with Yahoo News. “Now, having said that, we’ve had a lot done in the last few years. I’ve recognized that. But when I made my decision … it was less likely that those things would have happened.”

In fact, in 2021 Portman was part of bipartisan negotiations on a massive infrastructure bill that poured more than $1 trillion into roads, ports and the U.S. energy grid.

And then in 2022, he was again in the middle of a group of Republican and Democratic senators working together on changes to the Election Counting Act that made it harder to overturn election results. He also worked to pass a law recognizing same-sex marriage, which included provisions to address religious freedom concerns from conservatives.

Senator Rob Portman stands at a podium.  Behind him are senators Tammy Baldwin, Susan Collins and Kyrsten Sinema.

Portman with Sens. Tammy Baldwin, Susan Collins and Kyrsten Sinema at a news conference on the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act on November 29, 2022. (Sarah Silbiger/Reuters)

Portman also worked with Democrats last year to deliver 52 billion dollars for the domestic semiconductor industryone significant steps to keep the US competitive with China.

And he worked with Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., on more changes to help Americans invest larger sums in their pension accounts.

The infrastructure bill — criticized by some Republicans as largely wasteful spending — was “not really conservative or liberal,” Portman said. “It’s just common sense.

“We’re at a point in our political life where we have to figure out how to get back to the middle. And I don’t even mean ideologically,” he said. “I mean just to get things done . And social media is pushing us to the extremes because people are increasingly going down right or left rabbit holes.

“I think there needs to be a reawakening among the big middle [of voters]Portman said. He said he is close to announcing deals with a DC think tank and an Ohio college to continue work on political and public policy projects.

Portman wasn’t as optimistic as others on the right about the latest rifts that broke out during the parliamentary leadership election. He said he was concerned that House Republicans, who opposed eventual Speaker Kevin McCarthy for days, learned the lesson that they could be rewarded in the future by refusing to compromise.

“I think it’s fine for the Freedom Caucus to use leverage against political means,” Portman said of the right-leaning group of House Republicans who extracted several concessions from McCarthy in the leadership race. “But it’s not nice to stop the process if you don’t get exactly what you want. That’s not how it works. You have to find common ground.

Representatives Matt Gaetz and Kevin McCarthy talk to each other, surrounded by other representatives, on the House floor.

Rep. Matt Gaetz and Kevin McCarthy speak after another failed vote on Jan. 6, the fourth day of the House presidential primary, on Capitol Hill. (Shawn Thew/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

“To the extent that it rewards individuals more — not for finding that way, but for being an outlier — it makes the hard work of democracy more difficult,” he said.

Portman is an old-school Republican who served as trade representative and budget chief in the George W. Bush White House administration. But he never really distanced himself from Donald Trump in the way that some might have expected. He voted against impeaching the then-president in 2020 and again in 2021, following the January 6 Capitol uprising.

Portman’s second vote against impeachment came just weeks after he announced his retirement. Last November, Ohio voters elected Republican JD Vance — a staunch Trump ally — to replace Portman in the Senate.

But Portman said he doesn’t think Trump will be the Republican presidential nominee in 2024.

“I don’t think he’ll end up running. I think he said he’s running because he wants to test the waters, and I’m sure he likes the attention,” Portman said. “But I think ​​he will discover that it is not in his interest to stand up at the end.”

Portman noted that Trump has fallen behind Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in some public polls. Even if DeSantis lost steam, Portman doesn’t think it would benefit Trump. “And it will probably be another one after DeSantis,” he said.

“I supported Donald Trump’s policies for the most part, strongly,” Portman said, citing the 2017 tax reform bill and the Trump administration’s development and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Then-President Donald Trump stands at a podium.  Behind him are then-Vice President Mike Pence and a number of members of Congress.

Then-President Donald Trump at an event on the South Lawn of the White House on Dec. 20, 2017, to acknowledge the final passage of tax relief legislation by Congress. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

“But the vast majority of Republicans, when asked if he should run again, the numbers are far lower,” he said. “And I know he’s watching [polling data]. So I think ultimately he’s unlikely to run.”

One of Portman’s last negotiations came over the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill that strengthened legal protections for same-sex couples. It also included provisions to strengthen religious freedom for conservatives.

Portman led the debate on the bill. It was the latest step in a development of this issue that began for him in 2011, when his son Will told his father he was gay. In 2013, Portman announced that he had changed his position on gay marriage, from opposition to support. He was the first Republican senator to do so.

“I’ve reflected on it a lot,” Portman said. “It’s been a journey for me.”

Portman was a member of the House in the 1990s and voted for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which stated that marriage was between a man and a woman, discriminated against same-sex couples, and was signed by then-President Bill Clinton. DOMA was repealed by the Respect for Marriage Act, which Portman helped pass.

“Having been through this in our own family, that’s just the way people are,” Portman said. “And you have to respect people for who they are.

“And I know others were not on board and very much against it. And I heard from them and I still hear from them. But I think they’re fighting a battle that’s in the past,” he said. “And looking to the future, I think it’s a matter of protecting religious freedom in the context of allowing people to be who they are.”

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