Exiting Sen. Portman on future of GOP, Trump’s 2024 chances

Politics

(NewsNation) — With only a few days left in his final term, Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman has some parting words about partisan politics, the direction of his party and of former President Donald Trump.

After nearly 30 years of legislating, a lot has changed in Washington D.C., particularly in his party. 

“It’s a little more partisan, you know, politics has changed in America somewhat, and the country is more divided,” he said in an exclusive interview with NewsNation. “Some would say polarized even.”

Media and talk shows about national politics have also gotten increasingly polarized, and gerrymandered districts and party primaries allow for the farthest voices on either side to break through into national conversation. 

While he says alternative election strategies may be complicated and cumbersome, Portman believes there are some changes that could help decrease the political polarization during election season. 

“It should be just basically on the lines that are the political jurisdictions — the counties, the cities — and let the chips fall where they may,” he said. 

On the topic of the Republican Party’s direction, you can’t ignore the influence of former President Trump. While in office, 82 of the nearly 200 bills Portman successfully pushed through Congress were signed into law by the 45th president. 

But they didn’t always see eye-to-eye.

“We got a lot done in the Trump years, and I’m proud of that,” Portman said. “On the other hand, the style, the personality, the caustic nature of the political debate is not something that fits my interests or I think Ohio’s.”

Looking ahead to 2024, Portman doesn’t believe Trump will become his party’s nominee, saying the polling data just isn’t there, at least in Ohio. 

“People who believe he did a good job as president don’t necessarily believe that he ought to run for president again,” he said. 

He’s been spurned by the former president on recent occasions for a lack of blind devotion, particularly when Portman voted in favor of Democratic President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill.

“His reason for not liking it, I think was more about the fact that we were giving President Biden a victory, which I never viewed it that way,” Portman said. “We were giving the American people a victory.”

After three decades in Washington, Portman said he learned nothing gets done without the other team’s support. Take the infrastructure bill for example; For most of his tenure, Portman tried to get the dilapidated Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati on a funding plan. 

In his final weeks in Washington D.C. — with no reelection to focus on — he was able to get the bridge included in Biden’s infrastructure plan. 

For Portman, finding common ground might not get you on cable television news, but he says it’s kept him in office, saying the voters believe, “We hired you to actually get something done, not just to go out there and throw the partisan jabs.”

As he prepares to return home to Ohio, Portman plans on working with the University of Cincinnati to create a public service program.

In January, businessman JD Vance will take Portman’s place. Vance, a Republican, defeated Democrat U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan this November. 

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