Lara Trump rallies Republicans in Ohio

Lara Trump, the daughter-in-law of President Donald Trump, is seen at a campaign rally in Charleston, West Virginia in 2018. | Doug Coulter via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA-4.0

As far as appetizers go, David Ensinger reasoned, this speech would make for a good one.

This shaped up to be a good week for the Sunbury conservative  he’d see Lara Trump on Wednesday, then the commander in chief himself on Thursday at a rally in Toledo. 

“The man is a genius,” Ensinger said of President Trump inside the Hilton Columbus at Easton, awaiting the arrival of Trump’s daughter-in-law. 

The Trump reelection campaign’s early focus on Ohio shows an apparent emphasis on the Buckeye State in 2020. Trump won here by 8 points in 2016, evidence for some that Ohio is perhaps no longer a coveted swing state.

U.S. House votes on Slotkin resolution checking Trump on Iran military action

Trump’s campaign isn’t so sure of that. While Democrats are making their late pushes in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early primary states, Trump’s campaign  lacking any serious primary contender — can instead focus its sights on Ohio and other electoral college battlegrounds. 

“All roads to the White House run through Ohio,” Lara Trump pointed out to a standing room only crowd, shortly after beginning her speech with a hearty OH-IO chant. 

Lara Trump is a senior advisor to the reelection campaign. Her father grew up in West Lake, Ohio, and she said the economy here has boomed since Trump was elected in 2016. The unemployment rate in Ohio has dropped a percentage point, from 5.2 to 4.2, between Trump’s inauguration in early 2017 to the present. 

In contrast, Trump said that Democrats are proposing socialism — which she defined as the “government paying for everything” and Americans paying for their neighbors not to go to work.

Her visit came hours after the president gave a speech at the White House addressing the recent turmoil between the United States and Iran. 

Trump appears to declare John Dingell is in hell during rant at Battle Creek rally

“They say he can’t be presidential,” she commented. “I think he was very presidential.”

Some Democratic presidential candidates, particularly U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have criticized Trump’s decision to target and kill Iranian General Qasem Soleimani as an escalation toward war with Iran.

Lara Trump characterized their response as Democrats “siding with the terrorist.”

In a similar style to her father-in-law, Trump spent much of her time in Columbus reflecting on the 2016 election campaign. She referenced at length the campaign’s kick-off in 2015, wherein Donald Trump famously rode an escalator at Trump Tower to announce his run for president. (He sparked controversy from the beginning, saying in that first speech that Mexican immigrants are “rapists” and bring drugs and crime to America.)

She praised those who have backed the president from that first speech onward, calling them “escalator supporters.” 

That presidential campaign led to accusations it was colluding with the Russian government in order to win. Trump said at the Hilton that the 2016 campaign was too unsophisticated to have been capable of doing that.

Mueller report: Michigan’s role as 2016 battleground part of Russian meeting

“That gives us a lot of credit,” she said. “We could barely put a bus tour together.”

This all led to the underdog victory in November 2016, with Trump saying the New York Times gave the campaign only a 1% chance of winning the day before the election. (The actual number was 16%.)

Things are different this time around, Trump said. Whereas in 2016 the Trumps were “political novices,” now the campaign is “light years ahead of that.”

Still, the first election effort remained a central point of her 30-minute address. Later on, she briefly referenced the First Step Act  a piece of criminal justice reform approved by Congress with bipartisan support. Without mentioning much else about the act or what it does, she pivoted back to another question.

“Who remembers the night of Nov. 8, 2016?”

Trump becomes 3rd president impeached by U.S. House

Conspiracy theories

Looking ahead to 2020, Trump said there is nothing more important than for Republicans to support the president’s reelection efforts in order to keep “crazy Democrats” out of office. 

She predicted Trump’s opponents would do “anything they can” to get a Democrat elected this November, including cheating. 

“They’re working against us,” she said, not specifying further who “they” is. “I‘m not saying anybody would do anything like this, but you never know. Sometimes when people get desperate, sometimes they try and cheat. I’m just throwing it out there. So we have to be on guard.”

Trump encouraged supporters to watch the polls this fall. 

“We gotta watch the polls, make sure no funny business is happening when people are voting,” Trump said, “cause you know they’re trying to register dead people still and do all that crazy stuff. They’re desperate, they’re doing anything they can.”

The president himself has claimed without evidence that millions of people illegally voted in the 2016 election. 

Lara Trump speaks at the Hilton Columbus at Easton.

From supporting Obama to endorsing Trump

Erik and Shizue Farley of Worthington took very different paths to becoming Trump supporters. 

Shizue liked him from the beginning. Erik, not so much.

In fact, Erik voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 election. Over time, though, he described feeling alienated and turned off by “elite attitudes” in Washington, D.C. 

He first considered voting for Ted Cruz in the 2016 presidential primary. Shizue urged him to give Trump’s campaign a closer look. She preferred his American-first economic platform.

“That is so important,” she said of the effort to bring foreign jobs back to the U.S. “Trump is so important to me.”

The two attended Trump’s rally at the Dayton International Airport shortly before the Ohio primary in March 2016. Erik switched his support to Trump, and he hasn’t regretted it since.

Here’s the moment when Trump read aloud the impeachment vote results at his Battle Creek rally

“I’ve been happy with Trump,” he said Wednesday of the president’s first term.

Asked about the other 2020 races involving the Supreme Court and Ohio legislatures, the Farleys said they planned to focus on state issues closer to election day. Erik Farley said he was a campaign volunteer for Gov. Mike DeWine last year and that DeWine and Trump both appeal to him as “sensible” leaders. 

As they departed the Hilton, he mused about wanting to see Trump the next day in Toledo. 

“Too far of a drive,” Shizue replied. 

The two agreed they would see Trump when and if he returned to the Columbus area. 

If the campaign’s early emphasis on Ohio is any indication, the Farleys will not have to wait for long. 

This story first ran in the Advance’s sister outlet, the Ohio Capital Journal.

Tyler Buchanan
Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist with the Ohio Capital Journal who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.