WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rob Portman is a serious senator. He’s Midwest nice, a little old-fashioned, and in possession of deep wells of knowledge about taxes, trade, and health care. In some alternate universe, you could imagine him as Mitt Romney’s vice president.
This week, in his quiet office on the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Portman shared one way a serious senator deals with this insane moment in politics. Asked how he learns about President Donald Trump’s disruptive and frequently combative tweets, the Ohio Republican grinned.
“I get it two ways,” he began, as he rose from a chair in his office.
He walked behind his desk and grabbed his iPhone.
“I can’t follow everybody right? But guess who I do follow? Donald Trump,” Portman continued as he returned to his seat. “So every one of his tweets, I get on my phone.
“I have an alert,” Portman confirmed as he tapped away at the screen. “You know why? Because when I didn’t have an alert, I would be in the middle of interview with someone like you and they would ask me about something he tweeted, and I would be caught flat-footed.”
And, just to be safe, Portman’s press secretary sends him an email each morning with Trump’s tweets, which more often than not jolt the day in different directions and into various diversions.
During a half-hour interview this week with BuzzFeed News, Portman offered a glimpse of how Republicans like him — a mild-mannered conservative who came of age in the Bush era but now seems moderate when compared to Trump’s far-right champions — are trying to navigate the reality of Trumpism and a president who has taken their party down a more populist and unpredictable path. These days it’s tougher to figure out where a Portman fits.
What does it mean to be a Republican right now? Portman, once an unabashed free-trader who served as George W. Bush’s US trade representative, framed his answer around an issue that was central to Trump’s “America First” message.
“I consider myself a good Republican, but I’ve also been willing to talk about fair trade,” Portman said. “On something like that I feel like, even though I was a little out of the mainstream of my party on some respects there, I’m not uncomfortable with where they’re going, because I do think fairness and a level playing field is consistent with my principles and values as a Republican.”
He also acknowledged his own shift, something that signals just how sharply the party’s dynamics on trade have turned: Portman came out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership last year during his re-election campaign. And though he does not favor withdrawing from North American Free Trade Agreement, Portman said he wants to see substantial changes to that pact.
Read more at Buzzfeed.