The Plain Dealer’s sloppy reporting about President Trump’s remark at a private fundraiser held in northeastern Ohio in July that former Rep. Jim Renacci’s (R-OH) 2018 Senate campaign was “deep-stated by his own party” is at the center of a growing controversy among Republicans in the state.
On Thursday the Plain Dealer published an article by reporter Andrew Tobias titled “Former Ohio congressman Jim Renacci is laying political groundwork – but for what?“.
Renacci lost the November 2018 Senate race to incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) by six points, which was much closer than many pundits thought it would be.
“So, is Jim Renacci running for governor?” the article began. It went on to highlight Renacci’s activities in the ten months since the election, which include writing a book and founding a non-profit which he chairs, the Ohio Future Foundation (OHFF), which has focused on jobs and economic development for Ohio.
The article then turned to the president’s remarks at the July fundraiser in Ohio, which Renacci attended, along with 350 other people.
The biggest issue in the Plain Dealer article has become whether or not the president said at the event that “Jim Renacci was deep-stated by his own party.”
Two men who attended the event, Richard Blake and Jim Collins, were both quoted by the Plain Dealer confirming that Trump did, in fact, make that statement.
But the Plain Dealer article also stated that Blake claimed the deep-state comment was “an edgy reference to Jim’s issues with the party.”
In an exclusive interview with The Ohio Star, Richard Blake said that “He [Trump] was having fun with Jim [Renacci] and said he was deep-stated by the party. He said it in a humorous way. It was clear to us that it was meant to be humorous. It was clearly meant in jest.”
As for the Plain Dealer’s assumption that the deep-state comment was “an edgy reference to Jim’s issues with the party,” Blake told The Star, “I have no knowledge of Jim having any issues with the party.”
Jim Collins recalled the deep-state comment was made in the context of the President discussing how he was personally treated by the Democrats, by some in the Republican Party and by the media.
“I recall hearing, ‘Hey Jim, you remember getting deep-stated by your own party in Ohio?’ It was meant to be funny and serious. His motive is difficult to analyze because President Trump jokes a lot and is off the cuff but also is blatantly honest,” said Collins in his interview with The Star.
“He definitely twisted our words,” Collins said of the Plain Dealer’s Tobias.
“Yeah, he made a connection from point A to point B which I did not make. I’m fairly ignorant of the relationship of Renacci with the Ohio Republicans. I don’t know who endorsed him or who did not…I didn’t imply that [Tobias’ words ‘…it was an edgy reference to Renacci’s issues with the party’] whatsoever,” Collins told The Star.
While both donors and Renacci agree the President’s remarks specifically contained “deep-stated by the party” in some form or other, Blair Ellis, National Press Secretary for the Republican National Committee who attended the event and was also quoted in the Plain Dealer article, heard it differently.
“The President joked about the deep state, but it was never in reference to the Republican Party,” she said in an email to The Star.
The Plain Dealer article also reported that Ohio Republican Party Chair Jane Timken, like Ellis, said the president was not referring to the party. Tobias quotes Timken from a statement she gave, saying “Those words never came out of the President’s mouth,” but Tobias doesn’t specify to what “words” Timken is referring.
It is not entirely clear if the article, as originally published by the Plain Dealer on Thursday, contained any quotes from donors, other than Renacci, who subsequently confirmed the president’s “deep-state” comments.
The current version of the article contains this note at the end: “This story was updated after publication with additional comments about the July Trump fundraiser.”
Former Congressman Jim Renacci had a few clarifications of his own to the Plain Dealer’s reporting.
He said he was told the focus of the article was to be on the 2600 jobs created, a frustratingly low number in his estimation. Another issue Renacci had was the article reported he had sent copies of his new book to the County Republican Party Chairs, which he says is not true.
“I got a call from Tobias about jobs numbers. After that there was a lot of discussion. He did not report accurately a lot of things that I said. When it came to Governor DeWine, I never said anything negative about him. In fact I said that Governor DeWine was handed a bad situation by Governor Kasich, and I write that in my book. And I never said anything negative about the ORP, [or] Jane Timken, so I was shocked at Jane’s response. But in the end, I support what the President’s doing and I hope that Governor DeWine can change around a really bad situation that was handed to him.”
Renacci added, “But President Trump did say, after he asked me to stand up at the event, that I could’ve won, but I was deep-stated by my party. And there are a number of donors who will attest to that and I’ve gotten a number of calls since the Plain Dealer article was written who said he [Trump] absolutely said that.”
When asked what the President meant by “your own party,” whether he was referring to the Ohio Republicans, Renacci stated “No. In my opinion, I don’t believe the President was at all referring to the Ohio Republican Party or the Republican National Committee.”
The former Congressman wanted to make clear, “I was asked to speak to Andrew Tobias about a press release posted by the Ohio’s Future Foundation regarding 2600 jobs. Then the story went in a number of different directions and there were many things I didn’t say that were reported, like sending out the books to county chairs, and there were many things I did say that weren’t reported. But in the end, I don’t believe the Plain Dealer [reporter] factually reported what many of the donors told him the President said.”
“In the end, like many stories, I think the intent of the story got out of hand. I am disappointed in how Jane Timken responded. I have always had deep respect for Jane Timken and what she does for the Republican Party. But I love our state and country dearly and I’m going to continue to talk about policies that will help Ohio, not hurt Ohio. It’s about policies not people and nothing that I said was ever meant to be negative. In January I reached out to Governor DeWine and told him if he needs anything from me, I will always be there to help. The offer still stands.”
The Ohio Star reached out to Chair Timken but she has not responded.