There, across from me, in suburban Cincinnati, sat the voice of Trump Country.
Gary Abernathy doesn’t officially hold the title, but he’s held the position since Donald Trump was elected president in 2016. The former West Virginia GOP official and aide to Rob Portman was an early caller for the Trump’s Republican primary dominance and as editor. from Hillsboro Times-Gazette in southern Ohio, he was one of a handful nationwide whose newspaper backed Trump for president.
After Trump’s victory, some in the stunned “mainstream media,” to use Abernathy’s term, realized that much of America was not well represented. The Washington Post came to call.
“It’s not just a pro-Trumpish voice, it’s more of a Trump voter voice,” said Ruth Marcus, associate editor of the Post’s editorial page. Columbia Journalism Review. “We are…really keen to find out the diverse views expressed in the election.”
His Post columns led to frequent appearances on PBS NewsHour and other media shows, as well as lectures on college and high school campuses. Abernathy tries to promote “communication and civil discourse between people who are completely at odds with each other”, co-existing and respecting everyone’s rights to have different points of view.
Abernathy, 66, who now lives in Loveland, broke up with Trump over his 2020 post-election behavior but still keeps his ears open for Trump supporters.
He recently answered five questions:
Q: How do you think the Trump Country vibe is these days?
A: Unhappy and defiant. Most Trump supporters I know still believe there was fraud in the 2020 election and the mainstream media is not taking it seriously. They feel their concerns are being sidelined and dismissed — but they’ve long felt that, which Trump has acknowledged and that’s why they found him appealing.
Q: The New York Times recently published a post to cover “the right-wing media ecosystem”. How better do you think mainstream media has become in needing to reflect more parts of America?
A: Does the Times acknowledge that there is a “left-wing media ecosystem” that could be scrutinized? Most outlets haven’t done as good a job as the Post, especially its opinion… But in general news coverage, not much has improved, which I think is partly due to shrinking budgets. Most of the major influential news outlets are based in metropolitan areas, and branching out to rural areas is costly, beyond just a trip here and there. Thus, the Americans of the “overflown country” remain either misunderstood, stereotyped or outright ridiculed.
Q: “Hillbilly Elegy” author JD Vance drew a lot of attention in 2016 for his views on Trump voters, though his enemies in the US Senate are now attacking him for his former opposition to Trump. How much of a factor will Trump be in this race and who do you think has the most appeal in Trump Country?
A: It was sad to see Vance give up his credibility and drop what were obviously his deepest feelings about Trump in 2016 in order to push for votes. Josh Mandel is comical in that he will pander to Trump voters. You must laugh.
Jane Timken is probably the most politically serious candidate, and she’s also trying to fill that Trump lane, but her efforts in that direction aren’t as blatant or desperate as Mandel and Vance. Rob Portman’s endorsement is helpful, but it wasn’t surprising considering his wife, Jane, has co-sponsored fundraisers for Timken.
I know Trump supporters who like Mike Gibbons and Bernie Moreno, before he quit, for their business backgrounds. Interestingly, Matt Dolan is the only non-Trumper, but that won’t get him over the Republican primary finish line. If Trump approves, whoever he chooses wins. It’s still where we are.
Q: You now live in a different area of Trump Country – the suburbs. Do you think these voters are more likely to want to leave Trump?
A: I was somewhat surprised at how little difference there was between where I now live in Clermont County – just on the border of Hamilton and Warren – and Highland County. When we first moved here in the summer of 2020, I think there were more Trump signs here than in Hillsboro…
Trump won nearly 80% of the vote in Highland County, but he still won 67% in Clermont and 65% in Warren, so it’s still Trump Country here in rural areas. But I think the passion for Trump is greater when I return to visit Hillsboro than here in Loveland. But no one should confuse that with the idea that Republicans have drifted away from Trump on either side.
Q: As early as January 2016, you were telling mainstream Republicans that they “should start probing” a Trump-led ticket. And for 2024?
A: I recently wrote a column for the Post noting that even though President Biden has recently mocked the Republican Party by asking, “What are they for? the GOP doesn’t really have to figure that out yet. All he needs to do in 2022 is walk away from Trump. The GOP can be the party of Trumpism without Donald Trump.
Although some people claim Trump was a cult leader, he actually had a platform that appealed to Republicans — a strong southern border, energy independence, an America-first foreign policy, and resistance to the culture of cancellation, a politically correct awakening. Many other Republican candidates are ready to carry this banner.
Dan Sewell retired last year after 44 years of daily journalism and is a member of The Enquirer’s Board of Contributors.