Trump and Republican party at war in Ohio
Donald Trump. Even the Dallas Morning News has come out for Hillary Clinton © AP
Donald Trump is facing turbulence in Ohio after his campaign head in the key swing state lambasted the local Republican party chairman for what he claimed was “utterly bizarre” behaviour that undermined the businessman’s campaign for the White House.
Robert Paduchik, the Trump campaign head, accused Matt Borges, the Ohio Republican party chairman, of conducting press interviews that undercut Mr Trump as part of an effort to boost his chances of replacing Reince Priebus as head of the Republican National Committee.
“Chairman Borges conducted a self-promotional media tour with state and national outlets to criticize our party’s nominee,” Mr Paduchik wrote to local officials. “I spoke to Mr Trump on Thursday and he is very disappointed in Matt’s duplicity.”
The spat in Ohio, which Mr Trump must win to have any chance at taking the White House, comes at a tough point in the campaign for the Republican candidate. He has spent the past week dealing with the fallout from a 2005 video in which he talked lewdly about groping women and then faced a slew of accusations from women who claimed that he had sexually assaulted them. Mr Trump has denied the claims and accused the media of conspiring with Hillary Clinton rig the election against him.
Mr Trump has seen his lead in Ohio, one of the most important swing states along with Florida, evaporate in recent weeks. While the latest NBC/WSJ poll saw him regain a one-point lead over Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival has beaten him in four of the five most recent surveys. Mr Trump is viewed as having better odds in Ohio than other big swing states, but his get out of the vote operation relies heavily on support from the Ohio Republican party – from Mr Borges in the state capital of Columbus to the Republican chairmen of the 88 counties in the Buckeye State.
In his letter, Mr Paduchik alleged that Mr Borges had exaggerated his relationship with Mr Trump and the Trump campaign. “Chairman Borges does not represent or speak for the candidate and he no longer has any affiliation with the Trump-Pence campaign,” he said.
Mr Borges on Saturday denied that his team was not fully committed to helping Mr Trump win the election on November 8, and rebuked Mr Paduchik over his letter.
“I speak and meet with Bob Paduchik and Trump team members regularly. Interestingly, none of Bob’s concerns were voiced until he shared them publicly today,” Mr Borges wrote in an email to Ohio Republicans that was obtained by the Financial Times. “Let me be clear, I am never going to allow the bruised ego of a staffer to get in the way of my duty as the Ohio Republican party chairman.”
Mr Borges originally supported Ohio governor John Kasich for the GOP presidential nomination, but ended up backing Mr Trump after Mr Kasich quit the race. But he has repeatedly chastised Mr Trump for using divisive rhetoric that complicates his efforts to win Ohio and build the broad coalition that he needs to win the White House.
Last month, Mr Borges told the FT that his wife Kate would not allow him to place a Trump sign outside their home because she was unhappy with some of the things Mr Trump was saying on the campaign trail.
In another interview at his home on Wednesday, Mr Borges stressed that he continued to support Mr Trump. But he revealed that he had telephoned Mr Trump earlier in the week – without telling Mr Paduchik – to pass on some polling information and to ask whether there was any truth to a rumour that Mr Trump had once been caught on video using the “N word” – a reference to the racist epithet towards African Americans.
“I asked him, point blank, about this ‘N word’ story. He said it never happened,” Mr Borges told the FT. “There are some people I think on the Trump campaign who aren’t real super-happy with me for the way I decided to handle that and call him, make those conversations public, give him specific instruction without going through the campaign apparatus. But you know what, hey this is my state … I’m not a media hound. I think everyone gets that.”
One person who knows Ohio officials said Mr Paduchik sent the letter because he was angry at being circumvented. “This is about Bob’s ego being hurt. Matt called Trump directly, going around Bob, and he was pissed. It’s also likely a marker so they can blame someone for their loss,” said the person. “The vast majority of the state committee remains solidly supportive of Matt, as do all the elected leadership. Since those are the folks he answers to, that’s all that matters.”
The infighting in Ohio also comes in the same week that Mr Trump hit out at Paul Ryan and other senior GOP members in Washington after the Republican speaker of the House told his colleagues that he would not defend the tycoon or campaign for him.
Follow Demetri on Twitter: @dimi