Having advanced the cause of Middle East peace by brokering the Abraham Accords between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, President Trump must now turn his attention to the Middle West to advance the cause of his reelection. For in America’s heartland lies Ohio, the nation’s preeminent presidential prognosticator. No Republican has ever won the presidency without carrying Ohio. And since 1964, no one of any party has been elected president without obtaining an ovation from most Ohioans. Presidents may be residents of Pennsylvania Avenue, but the road to the White House runs through Ohio.
Home to more presidents than any other state save Virginia (both Ohio and the Old Dominion boast of eight presidents, including overlapping claims to William Henry Harrison), Ohio has not seen one of her own elected president since Warren G. Harding defeated fellow Ohioan James M. Cox 100 years ago this fall. Fittingly, both 2020 candidates have emulated Harding’s successful presidential bid. Trump’s urging of relief from pandemic-related lockdowns echoes Harding’s post-World War I “return to normalcy” campaign slogan. Meanwhile, Joe Biden’s campaign-from-home strategy is reminiscent of Harding’s front-porch campaign. But history shows that both candidates should attempt to follow in Harding’s footsteps by winning Ohio. Fortunately for Trump, he is blessed with an asset particularly suited to bring along the Buckeye state, first lady Melania Trump.
The greater Cleveland area is home to more Slovenians than anywhere outside of Slovenia. There is nothing that would be more beneficial to the president’s Ohio campaign than for America’s foremost Slovenian-American to appear at a campaign event in the area’s Slovenian community. Suburban Cleveland, where most of northeast Ohio’s Slovenian population has settled, is an important “swing” area of the state. A campaign event featuring the first lady would be the biggest thing to happen to Cleveland’s east side since local resident James A. Garfield was elected president in 1880. It would be the perfect confluence of time, place and person to propel the president to a second term.
President Trump is well aware of Ohio’s place in presidential politics, and he has made frequent visits to the state both before and after his last election, including receiving the 2016 GOP presidential nomination in Cleveland. Four years ago, Trump won not only Ohio but every state contiguous to Ohio, a feat not seen since 1984. This will be difficult to replicate. Persuading the Big Ten to reverse its prior decision to forego playing football this fall will help. But when trying to win the state with an unparalleled ability to pick a winner (a strong indication that Richard M. Nixon had the presidency stolen from him via voter fraud in 1960 is that he won Ohio), it is best to not hold anything back.
Inexplicably, Mrs. Trump has been an underused resource. This needs to change. Her recent well-received convention speech attests to her obvious abilities. Fluent in five languages, the pulchritudinous polyglot has an obvious ethnic appeal to key constituencies beyond Slovenian-Americans. Having lived under communism, she has an appreciation for America that was absent in her predecessor. (Michelle Obama famously declared that her husband’s presidential campaign marked the first time in her adult life that she felt proud of her county.)
Deploying the first lady to serve as a surrogate for the president in Ohio should be a top priority for the Trump campaign as the 2020 presidential campaign heads into the final stretch. She would be the belle of that bellwether state, a stylish symbol of the opportunities afforded by this country and the need to preserve them. Ohio’s presidential election forecasts are so accurate because it is truly a microcosm of the nation. But there is nothing micro about the opportunity in Ohio for the first lady. President Trump would be wise to take advantage of it.
Paul F. Petrick is an attorney in Cleveland, Ohio.