The greatest threat facing Hillary Clinton may not be Donald Trump in 2016; it may be Rob Portman in 2020.

The Ohio Senator appears to be a lock to defeat Democratic challenger and former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland on November 8. The prospect of Strickland losing badly to Portman is obviously disappointing for those who had hoped that the outcome of the Ohio contest would help Democrats regain control of the Senate. However, Portman could cause far greater headaches for Democrats going forward, because of his apparent skill in exploiting a questionable image of bipartisanship:

According to a tally by Democrats, Portman and GOP-backing outside groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Koch brothers, and the NRA, have spent over $45 million against Strickland—a total that exceeds Republican spending against any Democratic candidate in the nation, including Hillary Clinton…

Portman has thus far threaded the needle between running on a boilerplate GOP platform and the more populist Trump appeal. He’s come out against the Trans Pacific Partnership and run ads touting his work in the Senate to fight the opioid epidemic and combat human trafficking—two issues that don’t break along party lines. And while Strickland has strong union support overall, Portman scored the surprised endorsements from the Ohio chapters of the Teamsters and the United Mine Workers of America, both of which cited his support for a
pension-protection bill they want the Senate to pass.

Portman, of course, is promoting his union support in his campaign ads:

Yes, Portman deserves a modicum of credit for having co-sponsored energy-efficiency legislation with Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). However, if climate-change deniers such as the Kochs and the Chamber of Commerce are spending that much to keep Portman in office, one can charitably assume that Portman won’t be doing much more to address the climate crisis during his second term.

What’s so frightening about Portman is that, like fellow Ohioan John Kasich, Portman is masterful at convincing people who should know better that he represents non-radical, reasonable Republicanism, when the former George W. Bush budget director isn’t that much different from the rest of his GOP brethren when it comes to embracing discredited economic orthodoxy.

Yes, it’s nice that Portman is one of the few prominent Republicans who openly supports marriage equality, but the problem is, his party still views members of the LGBT community as sinful sodomites. Look for that reality to be downplayed if Portman runs for the Republican nomination in 2020–both by conservative Republicans desperate to recapture the White House after three straight presidential losses, and by a Fourth Estate that loathes the Clintons and would prefer to see an alleged “likable moderate” as the 46th President.

Democrats should keep a very close eye on Portman–and the way mainstream media entities cover him–during his second term. False balance and deferential treatment to questionably qualified Republicans won’t suddenly disappear during the course of the next four years; it may arguably get worse by the time November 3, 2020 rolls around. If Hillary Clinton defeats Donald Trump in a few weeks, she will have to wage two domestic wars–one against an even-more-radicalized GOP, the other against a press corps that chooses not to see just how loathsome the “party of Lincoln” has become. One can easily envision Portman rooting enthusiastically for Clinton to lose both wars.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.