When Vice President Mike Pence held a rally in Columbus in October, while on the campaign trail for the 2016 election, his soft-spoken conservatism was a contrast to his running mate’s off-the-cuff style. On Saturday, Pence embraced a more fiery, populist demeanor as he promoted President Donald Trump’s platform in his first visit to the state after the election.
“The truth is, the bureaucrats in Washington D.C. are too often standing in the way of job creators,” Pence told the crowd, continuing Trump’s outside-the-beltway message that helped get him elected. He went on to rail against said bureaucrats’ “taxpayer funded desks.”
His message, focusing on the economy and manufacturing but touching on a vast majority of Trump’s platform, was not delivered in a Midwestern ghost town full of empty factories and wrecked by globalization. Instead, it resonated with the crowd gathered at Dynalab EMS, an electronics manufacturer in leafy, subdivision-filled Reynoldsburg, a suburb of Columbus, the nation’s 15th largest city and the blue-voting capital of a swing state that went red last year.
Reynoldsburg itself is located in Franklin, Licking and Fairfield counties. Franklin, which hosts Columbus, was the only county of those three where the majority of the votes went to the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.
“Under President Trump, trade will mean jobs. But it will mean American jobs, and put American workers first,” said Pence, who was joined by Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, Dynalab President Gary James, Reynoldsburg Mayor Brad McCloud, and Rep. Pat Tiberi, who also spoke at Ohio State on Friday.
Portman and Tiberi’s presence was a reminder of the growing split among U.S. policymakers on trade. Tiberi previously promoted the Trans Pacific Partnership, a 12-country free-trade proposal led by President Barack Obama. Populist critics, both right and left, assailed the deal, and both presidential candidates ran opposed to it in the 2016 election, with Trump ultimately ending it. Portman, historically a supporter of free trade, ended up opposing the deal after its full text and terms became available.
But going beyond jobs lost to trade deals, Tiberi spoke at OSU on Friday on increasing domestic jobs by restructuring the tax code, which he said currently holds multinational companies based in the U.S. at a disadvantage when compared to foreign tax codes. On Saturday, Pence spoke out against the tax code as well, promising to cut taxes across the board, emphasizing cutting taxes “for families, for working families.”
Pence’s speech served as a rallying call behind Trump, and the administration’s platform. Though Pence met at the manufacturing plant to speak with small-business owners to talk about challenges they faced, the rally portion — with employees present who were being paid to be there — touched on broad policy points, ranging from Trump’s proposed wall on the Mexican border, to cutting taxes, to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
A repeal of the ACA, also known as Obamacare, was attempted earlier in February, but was scrapped when Republicans, among growing divisions in their party, pulled the bill from the floor fearing a lack of ‘yes’ votes.
“The president and I have faith that Congress is going to step up and do the right thing,” said Pence, who called it “a shame” that Congress didn’t pass the bill.
On Saturday, Tiberi said the House Freedom Caucus, whose members lobbied to make the bill more conservative, effectively sabotaged the bill’s chances.
John Neenan, 60, of Gahanna, another Columbus suburb, said he came out to see Pence to see if he could glean more of the former Indiana governor’s opinions on jobs.
“I just want to understand where we’re going from here,” said Neenan, who said he was optimistic about the path the country was on.
Neenan had been a Democrat for 35 years. After retiring from his job with the state, he started a consulting company, and he said his vote for Trump came because dealing with taxes as a small-business owner was one of the factors that led to his disillusionment with the Democratic Party.
“Democrats used to be for the people,” said Neenan, who said he now sees Republicans as more oriented toward everyday Americans. “Whoever can do it, I don’t care, but I just want to see jobs.”
Neenan said he also wanted to see “change,” and — faced with the prospect of another Clinton, with 12 combined years of presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush in recent memory — wasn’t convinced another familiar name could bring that. He thought there were “better Republicans” than Trump, but also said he didn’t think any of them could beat Clinton.
“(Trump) talks big game, let’s hope he puts it into the playbook,” Neenan said. He hoped that projects like an infrastructure plan would gather bipartisan support.
John Ord, a Dynalab employee, said he came to the rally because he thought it was a good way to show respect to the government, which he said he didn’t think enough people do. Ord said he also saw health care costs rise over the past few years, which was a factor in him voting for Trump.
“I didn’t feel like Obama’s policies were working, or working for my family,” he said. Like Neenan, Ord said Trump was attractive because he promised “a literal change.”
Pence’s optimism on jobs seemed to parallel Neenan’s. It being less than 75 days into Trump’s presidency, Neenan and Ord will have wait to see if their votes for change will go on to make an impact.