Go with “ass-licker,” he told Ryan.
There was a reason Fonte thought Ryan should “get a little bit dirty.” Democrats hadn’t lost blue-collar workers in the Rust Belt because Republican policies were better, Fonte told me. They lost because workers felt “fucked,” and Trump, when he flipped Ohio in 2016 and carried it four years later, had catered to their grievances, fashioning himself as a “fighter” for them.
Fonte could talk about inflation, interest rates, pensions and jobs. But to win an election, what he wanted from Democrats — and what he thought Ryan did better than most — was to “go out and swing.”
He said, “I’d call [Vance] a motherfucker, if it was me.”
In Washington, Ryan, the working class-obsessed congressman from the Mahoning Valley, has been held out by Democrats as a kind of prototype for messaging on the economy that could help the party recapture white, working-class voters lost to the Republican Party in the Trump era. Ryan, said Larry Cohen, the former Communications Workers of America president who now chairs the Bernie Sanders-aligned group Our Revolution, is “building something with his message of economic populism.” John Anzalone, the longtime Joe Biden pollster, called Ryan “a superstar who may understand working people better than anyone in our party.” Celinda Lake, a prominent Democratic pollster who advised Biden’s 2020 campaign, told me that regardless of whether Ryan wins or loses, for Democrats he will remain “very influential in terms of [advancing] an economic message.”
It’s a message Democrats need — not just in this midterm election, but in the run-up to 2024, as well. All over the country, anxiety about the economy is dragging Democratic candidates down. Inflation, gas prices and other economic concerns regularly rank at the top of voters’ minds, and poll after poll suggest that on those issues, voters trust Republicans more than Democrats.
Ryan does have an economic message. He calls for tax cuts and for bringing manufacturing jobs home. He thinks Democrats should pay more attention to people who don’t have college degrees. He tells audiences in one TV ad, “I agreed with Trump on China.”
But the longer Ryan has kept the Senate race in Ohio close — now trailing Vance by about 2 percentage points, according to the FiveThirtyEight polling average — it isn’t clear that anything he says about the economy is helping him in his campaign as much as his savaging of Vance. The real model that Ryan may be offering Democrats is how, in a red state, to tear a Trump-aligned Republican down.
Except for “ass-licker,” which Ryan told me is “too graphic,” little would appear to be off the table. In the closing stretch of the campaign, he’s run ads calling Vance a “fraud,” an “extremist” and a “California imposter,” while insisting that he will “fight like hell for you” and “take on anyone for the people of Ohio.” Ryan’s stump speech features a riff where he imagines Vance as a teenage child, asking his parents if he or she can go out to play — as Ryan puts it, with Marjorie Taylor Greene, Ted Cruz and Alex Jones, perhaps to Ron DeSantis’s house to “burn some books.“