Recognizing the Principled Leadership of Rob Portman
The following op-ed ran in the April 2021 print edition of Newsmax Magazine.
The Republican Party stands at its lowest ebb of federal power in more than a decade. The last time Democrats assumed control of both chambers in Congress and the White House was in 2009. As we now know, their majorities would be short lived due to Republicans’ ability to field quality candidates united behind a principled governing agenda. The best example of this at the time was Rob Portman, an experienced public servant with a well-earned reputation of crafting bipartisan solutions and a seemingly limitless reservoir of Midwest common sense.
In 2010, as a former Congressman, Trade Representative and Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Rob Portman executed a textbook campaign, besting his Democratic opponent in Ohio by more than 670,000 votes (7.5 percent of the vote). I had known him, along with is lovely wife, Jane, since our time serving together in the George W. Bush Administration. I watched the race closely and can say with clear memory that he ran a disciplined race not only grounded in substance, but one devoid of the sort of cheap shots and negative campaigning that has come to define public discourse today. He made me proud, but more importantly, as Senator, he impressed Ohioans so much that they went on to hire him for the job again in 2016. In what was one of the most closely watched races in the country, Portman defeated a popular former Democratic governor in a landslide.
I was saddened to learn that Rob Portman recently announced that he would not be running for reelection next year. Mostly because his exemplary career proved an old political adage to be true: if you work hard and focus on the task at hand, if you strive to make good policy and help people, the politics will work itself out. If Republicans want to return to a position of power in 2023, this is a critically important lesson for them to follow.
It’s hard when you’re out of power to determine a path forward. There are competitive interests and voices vying for attention. History even indicates that there’s a high likelihood that Republicans may pick up one or both federal legislative chambers next year because, traditionally, midterm elections are devastating for the party that occupies the White House. What Republicans cannot do, however, is merely become complacent or abdicate their responsibility to offer a contrasting set of values and core principles that resonate with wide swaths of the American electorate. It’s not enough to stand in opposition, Republicans must also stand on principle. It’s not enough to talk of freedom, liberty, individual rights and the rule of law; we must insist on fielding candidates of impeccable character capable of practicing what they preach.
If Republicans aim merely to become the “Party of No”, content with personifying the opposition, then that is precisely where they will remain. Alternatively, if we offer an uplifting competing vision for the nation, one grounded in expanding freedom, opening up opportunity, following the law and leading by example on the world stage, then we will earn voters’ trust.
Take healthcare and the economy for example. As we confront more viral strains of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. in tandem faces its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The success of our response will partly depend on the federal government’s effectiveness in reaching the families hardest hit by the loss of jobs and incomes. This is an area where Republicans should be leading by offering concrete policies that expand access to community-driven health solutions, empower businesses and consumers, and – most importantly – continue to protect the most vulnerable in society by adhering to fact-based science.
Further, Americans aren’t looking for conservative or liberal policy in the midst of a crisis, they want help from whomever will offer it. Where Democrats are willing to reach across the aisle to forge consensus in good faith on the pandemic or other large issue areas, Republicans can and should be willing to meet them. When Democrats overstep in spending or administrative state bureaucracy that threatens personal freedom or restrains economic recovery, Republicans can and should offer not just fervent opposition but also substantive, pro-growth alternatives.
When Rob Portman pronounced the end date of his political career, his statement read in part: “I don’t think any Senate office has been more successful in getting things done, but honestly, it has gotten harder and harder to break through the partisan gridlock and make progress on substantive policy, and that has contributed to my decision. We live in an increasingly polarized country where members of both parties are being pushed further to the right and further to the left, and that means too few people who are actively looking to find common ground.”
As usual, Rob was as insightful as he was correct. The partisanship, polarization and legislative gridlock has gotten worse. The question which remains is what both parties going to do about it. I just wish we had a few more Rob Portman’s around to figure it out. One thing is for sure, if Republicans are looking for a model of what works, they would be well served by looking to the Gentleman from Ohio.
Nancy Brinker, founder of The Promise Fund of Florida and Susan G. Komen, the world’s largest breast cancer charity, has served as U.S. ambassador to Hungary, U.S. chief of protocol, and as a Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control to the U.N.’s World Health Organization.