January 24th, 2021


In this year of the outsider, one senator's experience is actually helping him

George Will

By George Will

Published Sept. 8, 2016

The Closing of the American Mouth

TERRACE PARK, Ohio -- Sen. Rob Portman probably will win a second term, despite the fact that he deserves to. The swarm of young people who gathered on a Saturday morning in this Cincinnati suburb to feast on doughnuts and his gratitude are among the 5,000 volunteer interns, including students from 35 campuses, who have made 3.5 million voter contacts. Portman's supporters are a forgiving sort, undeterred by his many accomplishments and qualifications that could be disqualifying in this season of populist antagonism toward people who have actually governed.

A graduate of Dartmouth and the University of Michigan Law School, Portman was one of President George H.W. Bush's counselors. After six terms in Congress, Portman became President George W. Bush's trade representative and, a year later, director of the Office of Management and Budget.

It gets worse: This year's Republican presidential nominating electorate decided that the lungs are the locus of wisdom, but Portman is as quiet as his 19th-century Quaker abolitionist ancestors probably were when assisting the Underground Railroad. (In "Uncle Tom's Cabin," Eliza escapes over the Ohio River ice floes about 50 miles east of here.)

Given today's apotheosis of the outsider, Portman is fortunate to be running against a former congressman and governor, Ted Strickland, a political lifer who first ran for Congress (unsuccessfully) 40 years ago. He is an ordained Methodist minister from the gun-toting coal country of southeastern Ohio. Fortunately for Portman, Strickland, after losing the governorship to John Kasich in 2010, became head of the Washington-based, impeccably liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund. What was he thinking? Probably not about running again in Ohio.