COLUMBUS - Do you support Donald Trump?
It's a question we've asked Republican officials for months now, but one that came to a head this weekend, after the Washington Post unearthed a tape of the GOP nominee's 2005 lewd comments about his behavior toward women. Trump has said controversial and offensive things countless times before, but for some Republicans, this was too much. Some pulled their endorsements.
The rest have mostly stuck with the Republican nominee while universally condemning his comments and the behavior they describe.
Is that awkward for them? Just take a look at these statements from Ohio's top Republicans ahead of Trump's return to Cincinnati Thursday.
(Note: These statements were compiled before multiple stories broke Wednesday, including in the New York Times and People magazine, about women who said Trump had touched them inappropriately. The Trump campaign decried the Times and People stories as fiction. The Enquirer has reached out to all these officials and will update their statements if they change.)
Secretary of State Jon Husted has always said state law prohibits him from endorsing in elections. And his answer this week about who he was voting for was rather ... opaque.
"At this point I can't bring myself to vote for either of them," he told Cleveland.com of Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. He said he was leaning for Trump's vice presidential candidate, Mike Pence, over Clinton's running mate, Tim Kaine. He didn't elaborate.
A write-in for Pence? Or using the running mates to pick the presidential candidate?
The latter, Husted, a likely 2018 candidate for governor, told The Enquirer Wednesday.
"Neither candidate represents my values. I do like and respect Mike Pence, and on that basis, and on the basis of who will make the appointments to the upcoming vacancies on the Supreme Court, I’m going to vote for the Republican ticket," he said, without naming the guy at the top of the ticket. "It’s an election. It’s not a referendum on either candidate.”
To endorse or not to endorse
Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, a possible 2018 candidate for governor, is voting for Donald Trump. She doesn't plan to campaign with him.
How long did it take to get to that understanding? Too long.
Let's just say Mary Taylor had already told reporters she was voting for Trump and this week said, despite Trump's "appalling" comments, she still plans to "vote for our whole Republican ticket." Note the clever omission of the words "Donald Trump" from that part of the statement.
Taylor's political spokesman also insisted Taylor had never endorsed Trump. When The Enquirer protested that she had publicly voiced her support for Trump, the spokesman said an official endorsement would mean Taylor would be campaigning at Trump's rallies, lending her name to campaign material, etc. – all things Taylor hasn't done, he said.
It's about what you don't say
Mike DeWine, Ohio's attorney general and a likely 2018 gubernatorial candidate, used Twitter Saturday to condemn Trump's comments. "He must demonstrate the sincerity of his apology through his actions moving forward," DeWine said.
But the statement said nothing about whether DeWine still endorsed Trump.
Since he didn't withdraw his endorsement, The Enquirer reported it was still in force. No one from the DeWine camp argued, and a spokesman confirmed Monday to Cleveland.com that DeWine still plans to vote for Trump.
The whole statement and nothing but the statement
Give Treasurer Josh Mandel credit: Through a spokesman, the likely 2018 Senate candidate answered all the questions The Enquirer asked him, and clearly.
But Chris Berry, who works in the treasurer's office but responded to The Enquirer's questions after hours and from a Gmail account, politely asked The Enquirer to include his entire 68-word statement if we shared any of it with the public. (That's the equivalent of nearly 2 inches of newspaper column, if you're counting.)
"Treasurer Mandel finds these comments offensive and wrong and strongly condemns them. He also believes this election is a choice between Hillary Clinton continuing the disastrous policies of the Obama administration, or Donald Trump having the opportunity to change them. For the sake of the Supreme Court, Second Amendment, religious liberty, fight against radical Islam and many other issues, his endorsement and vote for Mr. Trump still stands."
After The Enquirer watched the debate Sunday night with Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges – and his nauseous dog – he remained undecided about whether to lead the state party in backing Trump. He was even less sure whether he would vote for Trump himself.
Since then, Borges has had multiple phone calls with Trump and has seen a general show of support for Trump from national and state Republicans. In an interview Wednesday morning with Cleveland.com, he appeared to have made a decision.
"I'm going to vote on Election Day. And if everything he's pledged to me turns out to be true and we run this campaign the way we need to run it for the last four weeks, of course I'll vote for our nominee," Borges told Cleveland.com. He had previously told The Enquirer he would not vote for Clinton.
But Borges also told The Enquirer part of his concern about Trump was the likelihood that additional damaging stories about Trump would come out. And Wednesday night, they did.
So is the indecision back? The Enquirer was unable to reach Borges Thursday morning.
Not Trump, but who?
Two Republicans fall in this category: Gov. John Kasich and Auditor Dave Yost.
Kasich had never endorsed Trump, but made it official Saturday. "It's clear that he hasn't changed and has no interest in doing so. As a result, Donald Trump is a man I cannot and should not support," Kasich said in a statement. "Our country deserves better."
By the way, he won't vote for Clinton either, his spokesman said. The Enquirer's next question: Will he vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson? No response.
Yost, a longtime Never Trumper, backed Trump once he became the GOP nominee. On Saturday, he became the first major Ohio official to rescind his endorsement and called on Trump to drop out of the race.
"I condemn his loathsome words and despicable attitude. Much, much worse is the conduct he laughingly describes, which amounts to sexual assault," Yost said in a statement.
But Trump didn't drop out. So how will Yost vote? Reached by The Enquirer Wednesday, he said he had "nothing to add."
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman had a tortured route to this position, and the vote he's casting won't even count in the state of Ohio.
On Friday, the senator from Terrace Park became one of the first Republicans to comment on the Trump tape, saying Trump "was right to apologize." But to many, it didn't really seem like Trump had apologized. He had excused the comments as "locker room banter" and had only apologized "if anyone was offended." (News flash: Most people were.)
As more and more of Portman's colleagues in Congress walked away from Trump, it became clear Portman would change his mind. He waited until 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, as folks were tuning out for the night and after the deadline of his hometown newspaper. And his reason for changing his mind? He didn't really give one.
"I had hoped to support the candidate my party nominated in the primary process. I thought it was appropriate to respect the millions of voters across the country who chose Donald Trump as the Republican Party nominee," Portman said in the new statement. "While I continue to respect those who still support Donald Trump, I can no longer support him."
That, of course, goes to Ohio's top state senator, Celina's Keith Faber. Not only does the Senate president support Trump, but he has some words for Portman, Kasich and everyone else who doesn't.
"If you don't vote for the Republican, you're effectively helping the Democrat," Faber told The Enquirer Tuesday, while emphasizing his respect for Portman and Kasich.
Honorable mention? Ohio's House speaker, Clinton County's Cliff Rosenberger, who said he didn't "condone" Trump's 2005 comments or more recent controversial comments, such as Trump's public feud with the family of a Muslim U.S. soldier killed in Iraq.
Still, "realistically there’s two choices here. It’s Republican and Democrat. I can tell you that I’m not going to test a vote with someone who can’t be trusted with classified materials," or someone who will appoint "Supreme Court justices that legislate from the bench," Rosenberger told The Enquirer Wednesday.
OK, so, he's voting for Trump.
"I don’t have a lot of time to sit here and answer questions" about Trump, he added. He has to try to help Republicans running for the Ohio House.