Being a under the spotlight of national politics is nothing new for Ohio.
Growing up in Cleveland, I vividly remember the endless phone calls, the ringing doorbells and the stump speeches as presidential candidates scrambled to secure last-minute votes in the state notorious for swinging between Republican and Democratic nominees.
This year, though, with presidential politics in full destructive disarray, the spotlight will shine on Ohio not just in primary voting on Tuesday, but also in November, and July.
The prospect is terrifying – particularly after the weeks of yelling and cursing, sucker punches and tossing reporters at Donald Trump rallies, all of which culminated Friday into a racially charged explosion of anger in Chicago.
The latest polls show Ohio Gov. John Kasich with a slight lead over national front-runner Trump in the quest for the state’s 66 delegates, though polls have been laughably wrong in this crazy year. An upset could help set up a contested convention to pick a nominee.
That would be the second time the spotlight will be trained on Ohio, this time in Cleveland at the Republican National Convention in July.
If things go the way the polls predict, it promises to be an epic battle – one that will determine not only which Republican will be running for president, but also the future of the entire party.
Will it be taken over by an uncompromising, angry mob of voters? Will the embattled establishment regain control over its rebellious electorate? Or will the GOP split in two, as Trump supporters lose their minds and lash out at what they see as a nefarious plot by the establishment to steal the nomination?
Given what’s at stake, the Republican Party couldn’t have picked a more perfect city to unleash the kind of meltdown that hasn’t been seen in American presidential politics since the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968. I say that both honestly and sarcastically.
Cleveland, you see, has a way of cursing everything. Murphy’s Law seems to reign there. It’s no big deal. Clevelanders have always had a dark sense of humor about it.
Residents, for example, blessed with three professional sports teams and cursed with zero championships since the 1960s, have a long tradition of nicknaming the heart-wrenching close calls.
There’s The Drive (a loss by the Browns in 1987), The Shot (a loss by the Cavaliers in 1989), The Fumble (another stupid loss by the Browns in 1988) and The Catch (a loss by the Indians in the 1954 World Series). There’s also whatever the heck that was last season when the injury-prone Cleveland Cavaliers fell to the mighty Golden State Warriors. The Collapse, perhaps?
Now, with the Republican National Convention headed straight for Cleveland, that gallows humor is in full effect. Personally, I think the convention should be nicknamed The Red Death.
Dark humor aside, what’s happening within the Republican Party now and what could happen at the convention in a few months is no laughing matter. Anywhere Trump goes, anger, violence, racial strife, a mob mentality seem to follow. It’s inexcusable, but it also seems inevitable.
Last Tuesday, a reporter accused Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, of violently grabbing her arm at a rally. Trump and Lewandowski continue to deny it, despite a witness and audio evidence. An investigation is underway.
On Friday, protesters in Chicago finally did what anyone who has been paying attention to Trump’s increasingly hateful rhetoric knew was coming. They forced the candidate to call off one of his rallies, and clashed with his supporters and police in the streets.
And on Saturday, a protester jumped on stage during a rally in Dayton, Ohio, forcing Secret Service agents to protect Trump as he continued to spew divisive words to the crowd’s delight.
Cleveland is, of course, ramping up security in preparation for protests. Using $50 million from the Republican National Convention, it is stocking up on riot gear, including body armor, hard-knuckle gloves and collapsible batons. Some 5,000 police officers will be on duty for the four-day convention.
It’s scary stuff. But if any city can handle The Red Death, it would be Cleveland – and I say that with a lot of affection and a little sarcasm.