Local Politics: Sending Ohio troops to Texas is less about helping, more about theater

Gov. DeWine's commitment to help protect the U.S.-Mexico border promotes Trumpist fearmongering as a way to fend off right-wing primary challenges

Craig Calcaterra
Gov. Mike DeWine

Last week Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced that, at the request of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, he is sending Ohio National Guard troops and members of the Ohio Highway Patrol to help "protect" the border with Mexico. The 185 troops he plans to send later this year will join the 115 troops who were deployed there in 2020 and who remain on active duty. To that total he is adding "about a dozen" State Highway Patrol officers, as well. Never mind that Ohio neither shares a border with Mexico nor has any highways within a thousand miles of the place. Never mind that the state troopers will have no power to arrest anyone or do anything, really, other than stand around and get paid their salaries and expenses by Ohio taxpayers as they do it.

The governor has his reasons for doing this, of course. He muttered something about drugs. He said something about honoring the requests of other states because, hey, you never know when Ohio might need help. He also offered some platitudes about how it's "the right thing to do." What he did not say, however, but what is clearly the real reason, is that Republicans sending National Guard troops or law enforcement to Texas is a component of some highly orchestrated political theater aimed at undermining President Biden, perpetuating the racist Trumpian project of demonizing immigrants, and above all else, protecting the right flank of incumbent governors such as Greg Abbott and Mike DeWine.

Abbott has chosen to demagogue the issue of border security — complete with plans of dubious legality to build his own border wall where former President Trump's left off — for many reasons, but one of which is, obviously, because demagoguing the border and demonizing those who would cross it has worked for Republicans in the past. It riles up the base and puts Democrats like President Biden on the defensive. So, even if immigration policy is the purview of the federal government, not state governments, fearmongering about invading hordes of brown people is seen as good politics by Republican governors.

But it may also be necessary politics, required as a means of fending off potential primary challengers.

Abbott is seeking a third term in 2022 just as DeWine is seeking a second. As they do so it would not appear that their most serious challengers will come from the Democratic Party but, rather, from an even farther right wing insurgency by those who more loudly proclaim that they, and not the incumbent, are more faithfully following in Donald Trump's footsteps. This is particularly true for DeWine, who made no friends with Trump and his devoted followers last year during the brief period in which he actually took prudent and proactive action to combat the pandemic. He paid for that bout of temporary sanity politically — Trump mocked and got people to boo him at some rallies —  so he attempted to make up for it by hastily and prematurely reopening the state and largely capitulating to those in the legislature who do not believe that the government has any legitimate role in keeping its citizens safe. Now, seemingly aware that a good way to get bogged down in a more-difficult-than-expected primary battle with former U.S. Representative and hardcore Trumpist Jim Renacci is to be seen as soft on immigration, he's doing whatever he can to avoid it.

Given that this is all theater as opposed to anything of actual consequence, part of me wishes that DeWine would play things out even more dramatically than he already is. I mean, Ohio actually shares a border with a foreign nation — Canada — so why not, in addition to sending Ohio ground troops to Texas, muster an amphibious defense force on Put-in-Bay or Middle Bass Island in case they try to invade through Lake Erie? Why not shore up Toledo or Ashtabula in case they attempt a flanking maneuver through Michigan or Niagara Falls and Erie, Pennsylvania? If one is serious about border security there is no place for half measures.

But, of course, it isn't about the border. It's about DeWine's inability or unwillingness to stand up to the extremists in his party and to actually govern with the best interests of Ohioans in mind. It's about caring more about his own standing among Republicans than it is about what is actually, to use his own words, the right thing to do.

Gov. DeWine is often credited with being one of the few remaining moderates, at least relatively speaking, in his party. For being a decent man. But what good is a reputation for moderation and decency if it's cast aside out of fear of what the loonies in your party will say or do if you don't kowtow to them? As a big proponent of the "It's not who you are underneath; it's what you do that defines you" philosophy, I'd say it doesn't amount to much. I'd say that, if you willingly and opportunistically immerse yourself in cynical, performative and unavoidably race-based immigration politics because you fear what will happen if you don't, you're just as radical as those who willingly embrace such politics. I'd say that it renders your claims to moderation and decency pretty damn hollow.