The heretical Republican discusses his party's “descent into the abyss.”
Clarence Mingo was once a Republican rising star. After being appointed Franklin County auditor in 2009 and winning two elections in a heavily Democratic county, Mingo launched a campaign for Ohio treasurer in 2017. Some thought it would be the first of many statewide campaigns; insiders even talked about Mingo running for governor someday.
But the political landscape changed quickly under his feet. With the rise of Donald Trump, Mingo’s moderate message no longer resonated with his fellow Republicans, and he dropped out of the treasurer’s race before the 2017 primary. His political fall continued in November 2018, when Democrat Mike Stinziano decisively ousted Mingo from the auditor’s office. What changed for Mingo, who once could attract both Democrats and independents in addition to his GOP base? It seemed Franklin County voters, disgusted by Trump, no longer could stomach any Republican, even someone like Mingo, an African American, an outspoken Trump critic and a classic, middle-of-the-road, Central Ohio Republican in the mold of John Kasich, Jim Rhodes and Greg Lashutka. “I was a casualty of President Trump’s rhetoric and national leadership,” says Mingo, who lost the 2018 auditor’s race by 14 percentage points.
Since that shellacking, the New Albany resident has founded a security technology firm and done some consulting. But his political failures haven’t silenced him. If anything, he’s become even more heretical, calling out his fellow Republicans for failing to stand up to Trump in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial justice protests. In June, Mingo opened a scorched-earth op-ed in The Columbus Dispatch with this doozy of a sentence: “The Republican Party’s descent into the abyss is now complete.”
Columbus Monthly spoke with Mingo about the president, the future of the Republican Party, the lack of diversity in the GOP and who he might vote for in the fall. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Was there a turning point for you this year that shaped your beliefs about the president and your fellow Republicans?
Yes. Let’s journey back to two moments in time. One, the early days of the president’s handling of the COVID-19 virus, where the president denied and otherwise refused to admit that it’s a significant threat to the welfare of our country and that few, if any, Republicans strongly took him to task over his conduct and behavior during that time. That was a heartbreaking moment for me. And then came the death of George Floyd, and again few Republicans dared to challenge him or to at least say that his perspective is wrong and fatal to the interest of the American people. That struck a very hard blow for me, and it was an indication that so long as President Trump was in office, Republican leaders who know they have a responsibility to speak out, because of fear of him, would not.
We’re at a point right now where, if you are a Republican of national standing and you have not challenged or disavowed the president’s overall conduct and leadership, there’s likely no circumstance in which you will do so, so long as he is president. And that’s a dangerous moment.
Will you vote for Joe Biden in the fall?
I can tell you two things. I absolutely will not be voting for President Trump in 2020. I voted for John Kasich in 2016 [as a write-in candidate]. Concerning voting for Biden, there’s a very strong possibility that I will vote for him. As this election wears on, I continue to watch and measure his policy agenda, and I absolutely am not averse to voting for a Democrat who is committed to restoring character and integrity around American leadership and government.
You’ve said Trump shows a sickness within the Republican Party. Do you think the recent Larry Householder scandal also reveals a sickness?
I do. I think for reasons that are still not clear, many Republicans have opted for candidates who bear temperament and behaviors that are self-centered and not thoughtful towards the general public and broader interest, and the rise of Speaker Householder is an example of our willingness to choose leadership that does not and never has reflected the full character of our party. But that began with President Trump.
What will Trump’s long-term impact be on the Republican Party?
I strongly feel, and said as much back in 2016, that the Republican Party will be significantly damaged for at least [a] generation. … The harm done by President Trump is almost irreparable. It’s going to take four or five election cycles before Americans will be convinced that the Republican cause is broader and not defined by what President Trump has brought to the political landscape, and we have to begin working on that. There is a sense of urgency in my heart for Republicans to quickly abandon and disavow everything that reflects President Trump and really get back to more moderate, broader perspectives that are conservative but also inclusive of people in circumstances beyond the core of conservative thought and theology.
Why do you think there aren’t more African Americans in the party?
A two-part answer: One, Republicans in this era of Donald Trump have given African Americans no incentive to even explore conservative thought and Republican leadership. We’ve spent the last four years messaging to them that this party is not considerate of any other calls or thought other than the mind of Donald Trump. So the president has been offensive enough that African Americans at this hour, and during this election, should not vote and should not consider Republican leadership. Historically, we have failed to connect, policy-wise and economically, with the needs of African American voters. We are unaffiliated with communities of color, and we are not closely acquainted beyond election years with Americans of color. And the problem is we’re addressing African American and Latino populations for political purposes but not from the standpoint of sincerity, meaning that they are our constituents just as much as Caucasian communities are. So it’s really important that not just the Republican Party but individual Republican leaders make a point to understand and value and become acquainted with communities of color, not just during the election cycle and not merely for political purposes but because these communities constitute the fabric of America just as other communities do.
Do you have any interest in running for political office again?
I believe that time and opportunity will find me, and the right place of service will avail itself, and I certainly will explore that. I dedicated my adult life to public service, and as the months go on, my eyes and mind are open for the right opportunity and place to begin serving again.
But don't you think that your outspokenness about Trump is going to kill any opportunities that might be out there in the Republican Party?
Listen, you're right. There will be some Republicans who will not forgive my disapproval of President Trump and his leadership. But I think over time Republicans will return to a more moderate and more respectable perspective on what our statewide and national leaders should be.
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