Tonight, Donald Trump came up short in the key, battleground state of Ohio. The Buckeye State handed a win to its native son, Governor John Kasich. While Kasich’s win in Ohio may not be shocking given his relationship to the state, it was an important moment in the grander scheme of this race. Republicans showed a hint of a desire for calm.
The Republican nomination battle thus far has been characterized by a combination of a growing wave of anger, nasty rhetoric, and acts of violence, governed by party elites with little control over it. Recent events at Trump rallies have alarmed many Americans. The media, for the first time in this cycle, have painted the Trump candidacy in a different light—not simply as a fun sideshow to watch. Media covered those violent events as alarming and Trump’s brand appeared to take a hit. There are now questions about the appropriateness of Trump’s response to national anger. That anger is powerful. It affects men and women, Democrats and Republicans, young and old, white and non-white. A late 2015 CNN poll put the number of voters who were angry at the system to be 69 percent. Ohio, perhaps, shows us that there still is a line in American politics. Ohio signaled that while anger at the federal government, at elected officials, at the direction of policy is justified, violence is not a legitimate response.
In tonight’s key states, unhappiness was the norm. CNN exit polling that showed Republican voters were angry or dissatisfied was at 86 percent in Florida, 92 percent in Ohio, and 94 percent in North Carolina. Even though Ohio has 53 percent of voters saying they are “dissatisfied” and 39 percent who say they are “angry,” They didn’t believe Trump was the answer.
Trump’s supporters seem to embody those who are angriest. Polling supports this. In tonight’s exit polls in Ohio, for example, Trump won over 50 percent of those who say they are “angry.” Trump has very effectively communicated to those angry voters and with a level of political mastery rarely seen from a political novice. He built a powerful, large, and consistent coalition. Those voters are typically not violent and do not look like the pictures splashed across mainstream media flashing inappropriate salutes. However, the level of anger and the worries over political violence are enough to worry voters—Democrats, Republicans, and independents.
Contrast those angry voters with those supporting Bernie Sanders. Parallels between Trump and Sanders’ voters are often cast, but these voters are a bit different. Sanders has seized on anger on the left. Sanders has communicated with those groups as effectively as Trump has with his. However, the tone, tenor, and words are markedly different and the behaviors and even mood seen at Sanders rallies look more like a political event than a wrestling match. Sanders’ policies may worry some voters, but his rhetoric and rallies don’t scare America. Trump’s rallies do.
Primary night tonight shows us that there has come a point where that fear comes with backlash, and that it can combat that Republican anger. Kasich’s win—or rather, Trump’s loss—in Ohio tells an important story about the American electorate: Most people aren’t voting for Trump. Trump has positioned himself as the catchall for America’s many angry voters, but most voters want something different. Let’s put this into perspective with some of the major races thus far. About 65 percent of Republican voters in New Hampshire, Michigan, Virginia, and South Carolina opted for a different candidate. In Texas, over 83 percent of Republicans chose a different candidate. Characterizing Trump voters as the face or mood of the Republican Party may seem like a fun exercise, but barely reflects political realities.
Trump had some wins tonight, and he will continue to have wins. However, Cruz’s successes on Super Tuesday and a win from Kasich—a candidate consistently considered second tier—suggests some Republicans are ready to push back against Trump. Republicans are worried that Trump and the optics of his rallies are changing the face of the Party of Reagan for the worse.
Republicans are worried their party will change for the worse. They are worried that they will lose the Senate. They are worried that Hillary Clinton will be president. And all those worries come from a single source: the Trump candidacy.
Ohio is known for its middle of the road, reasonable residents. Tonight, those residents—especially the Republican ones—came together in an effort to stop a media darling, a New York billionaire, and the Republican frontrunner. Trump may well become the nominee, and his success in other states showed that March 15th would not be the day Donald Trump’s music died. However, Ohioans sent a message to every Republican voter across the United States: You might be angry, but if Donald Trump scares you, follow our lead.