You’ll be forgiven if, what with all the prodigal-son-pardoning that Cleveland was doing at the end of last week, you’ve already forgotten that the city also locked down the 2016 Republican National Convention. Come that far-off summer, the streets of this jewel of the Rust Belt Riviera will be awash in power ties and quaint ideologies and social mores; the GOP’s glitterarti, coiffed, gusseted, and ready for battle, will be busy appropriating Cleveland’s blue collar culture.
While only fools and state party chairs ever believe a convention location will swing a state, it’s a clever bit of marketing by the Republicans to throw their prom in a stronghold of Democrats and labor unions. Of course, that doesn’t mean the Grand Old Party’s princes won’t have their own supporters in the region. Northeast Ohio, for all its steelworker socialism, features some of Ohio’s swing-iest areas—those filled nearly equally with the country’s most important partisans, red and blue, the varsity players on the Electoral College campus.
So where can 2016’s potential Republican contenders look to for backing from likeminded conservatives? We present to you a brief geopolitical tour of the upper-right chamber of the heart-of-it-all state.
The front-runner in the all-important two-years-til-Election Day Quinnipiac poll, Rand Paul is firm believer that America should mind its p’s and q’s when it comes to the foreign stuff, and thus his natural place is with suburbia’s own isolationists—the exurbians. In Northeast Ohio, this means Paul’s people are the McMansion-dwelling libertarians who fancy themselves to be renegade businessmen, nouveau cowboys whose preferred steed is a ride-on lawnmower. Look for them on the far West Side of the lakeshore, in places like Avon Lake, where they own homes adjacent to those of various Cleveland sports stars, or further afield to the southwest in Medina County (pronounced “meh-die-nah”, thank you very much), home to a number of very lovely gazebos, and whose citizens overwhelmingly voted for Mitt Romney in the 2012 election. Like Paul, the exurbians are their fathers’ sons—independent-minded, but just a little more establishment than the old man, living out the American dream with their loge seating at Tribe games.
Possessed of a smartass personality and perpetually-smirking mug (described by internet-toughs as “punchable”) Cruz would frankly do well to steer clear of most people in and around Cleveland. Rust Belt Midwesterners are generally not wildly ideological people—the constant deluge of lake effect snow in the winters saps much of the energy that might otherwise be devoted to causes like the Tea Party-ism that Cruz holds dear. Plus, the ‘look-at-me!’ attitude required to filibuster a bill that is most certainly going to pass, as the Texas senator did with Obamacare, is not the Ohio way; the state’s own senators have a history of orbiting the Earth and then dutifully serving their country with reserved dignity. Cruz’s best bet is to dig deep into the Eastern suburbs of Cleveland in places like Geauga County, home to Amish people and excellent fruit farms, whose denizens went strongly for Romney in 2012.
If ever there was a Republican for Cleveland, it would be the corpulent governor of New Jersey. Sure, he’s got a bit of a Bridgegate stink on him these past few months, but the city is more than used to a little political shadiness; the former Cuyahoga County commissioner is serving 28 years in federal prison for racketeering. So what’s a little traffic jam! Christie’s most definitely a West Side of the Cuyahoga River kinda guy—he looks like he could down a boilermaker with the best of them at a Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood bar, or a kielbasa, pierogi, chicken paprikash buffet at Sokolowski’s with the elderly Eastern European crowd. Plus, he really likes Springsteen, and Cleveland, as most everyone knows, is a Springsteen kind of town.
If everyone’s favorite brown-nosing, P90X-ing altar boy makes his way into the party’s heart in 2016, he’ll have at least one Cleveland demographic locked down—the middle-aged alums of the city’s various sports-centric all-boys Catholic high schools. One need only take a gander at the practically-collegiate athletic facilities of St. Ignatius or Gilmour Academy to recognize the fundraising, cheerleading power of this particular Cleveland cabal. It doesn’t hurt that Ryan looks like he could be one of their star ex-quarterbacks and plays up his Catholic cred (except when it comes to the whole social justice part of religion).
His mother doesn’t want him to run, but that doesn’t mean Jebby can’t dream, and if that fraternally frustrated dream does come true, a certain set of far East Siders will be at his side. The crowd in Gates Mills and Hunting Valley—the latter of which requires all its houses to be painted white with black shudders—would welcome the Episcopal blandness of a down-the-middle Republican like Bush. No muss, no fuss, just old school rich-person conservatism, as God intended it.
No political convention would be complete without its share of filled-with-ire picketers. Cleveland 2016 will be no different, and will draw largely from the near East and West sides—aging hippies from Cleveland Heights, an official nuclear-free zone; wealthy liberal doctors and lawyers from Shaker Heights (ancestral home of the Ratner family, Democratic donors who also happen to own some prime New York City real estate, like the New York Times building); wealthy liberal doctors and lawyers from Lakewood and Rocky River; professors from Case Western Reserve; Oberlin students who have road-tripped into civilization.
And who knows? Given his past political stands, it might not be so crazy to see a certain Akron native and prodigal son out with the rabble rousers. Because in the end, regardless of party affiliation, we are all witnesses.