ATHENS – Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland thinks that for many people American politics have become a blood sport.
“There is polarization in our politics, but there doesn’t have to be hate,” he told the Ohio University chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists Tuesday night at OU’s Schoonover Center. “I think for many people it has become a blood sport, and there’s too much hate.”
Speaking with the group of journalism students, Strickland offered a candid assessment of his successor as Ohio governor, John Kasich, his thoughts on the state of the country, his failed bid to unseat Ohio Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman in 2016, and the Ohio governor’s race of 2018.
With regard to the state of the country, Strickland said he is very concerned about President Donald Trump.
Strickland, who has earned a doctorate in counseling psychology from the University of Kentucky, questioned Trump’s mental fitness to serve.
“I’ll just tell you candidly, I think he’s psychologically unfit to be president. I think he’s dangerous to our standing in the world and perhaps even to our physical safety as a country,” he said. “I think it’s impossible to know for sure how he will react if things continue to sort of unravel for him.”
When you have Republican senators also questioning the president’s fitness to serve, it’s a serious situation, Strickland said.
What happens nationally will have an impact on what happens in Ohio in 2018, he noted.
Strickland said that he is not ready to make an endorsement in the 2018 Democratic Primary for Ohio governor, and spoke about the strengths of the candidates individually.
Democratic candidates currently include Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, former state Rep. Connie Pillich, and former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton. He also spoke about the possibility that Jerry Springer or Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief Richard Cordray may enter the race.
Strickland said that a lot of the Democratic hopefuls would face the challenge of lacking statewide name recognition.
“I don’t know who will emerge as our candidate but I think we may have the opportunity to win the governor’s office and we may win some other statewide offices,” he said. “We’ve got some good candidates and some good down-ticket candidates.”
Strickland declined to make predictions about 2018, saying that circumstances in politics can change on a dime. For instance, when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2016, Strickland noted that he was originally beating Portman in the polls. After Republicans and conservative political action committees spent $60 million on the race, he ended up losing.
Despite large-scale polarization and harsh invective in America’s political discourse, Strickland declined to demonize Portman and said he doesn’t dislike him personally.
“My personal feeling is that he’s kind of weak and wishy-washy and usually does not take a stand on a particular issue if he can avoid doing that,” Stickland said. “I think the recent health-care debate in the Senate is an example.”
He said that while he hasn’t been particularly fond of Gov. Kasich, who beat him in 2010, and still has conflicted feelings about him, he does see him as superior to many other Republicans in the national spotlight these days.
“I guess in politics, like much of life, things are relative, and when you compare our current governor with much of what the rest of the national party is presenting for the American people, I think he looks pretty good,” Strickland said. “I applauded the fact that he expanded Medicaid.”
As far as the four Republicans running for governor in 2018 – Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor – Strickland said they all declined to say much of anything positive about Kasich during a GOP candidates forum last week.
“I don’t see any evidence that he’s having much of an effect in changing the attitudes of the Republican base,” Strickland said. “When the four declared Republican candidates for governor are willing to imply criticism of Gov. Kasich because of his moderate positions, I think that means they perceive the base of the party to still be pretty far to the right.”