The Mini-Trump Blowing Up Local GOP Politics

STRONGSVILLE, Ohio—One evening earlier this month, on the grass of the commons outside the police station and the chambers of the city council here, a couple hundred people gathered with “Thin Blue Line” flags mounted on thick plywood posts for an event they wanted to serve as a show of political force.

On hand to back the local cops while fending off what they see as looming leftist enemies, the speakers who took the stage included two city councilmen, the Republican state representative, a onetime Cleveland police union boss and Fox News-prominent former Milwaukee County sheriff David Clarke — but the obvious emcee of the occasion was an operative with gelled-down hair and a gap-toothed grin.

Shannon Burns, the president of the Strongsville GOP, slid behind the microphone and delivered a puckish prompt. “Anyone ever heard of us backing down from a fight?”

“No!” the crowd shouted back.

Many of the attendees had paid $40 for a flag to stand in a public space to decry a scarcely discernible controversy. The happening went on for roughly an hour before some of them shifted inside to chambers to lecture their elected officials about “so-called,” “self-appointed” “social justice activists.” The episode wasn’t some natural groundswell. It was a coordinated effort that has become quite common lately in this town of 45,000.

Triggered by former President Donald Trump’s rise but even more by his (electoral) demise, Burns has stoked a steady boil of outrage — organizing more than a dozen events around culture-war wedge issues like masks and vaccines to critical race theory and “defund the police.” No issue, though, has been a bigger, more visceral animator for Burns and the members of the Strongsville GOP than what they considered the heresy of Anthony Gonzalez — their congressman who was one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in the aftermath of the Capitol insurrection earlier this year. Relentlessly modeling Trump-style politics — politics as entertainment, politics as business, politics as personal and perpetual combat — Burns zeroed in on Gonzalez, censuring him, hounding him for his “betrayal” and calling on him to “RESIGN.”

Throughout 2021, Burns has transformed the local Republican party in this suburban corner of northeast Ohio, making a local partisan group less local and more partisan. He has dispensed with much of the staid standard fare and even the pedestrian goals of a traditional place-based Republican club like actually electing Republicans. Instead, he has presented what can feel like almost non-stop programming — movie nights, gun range nights, grandiose political summits with right-wing A-list-ish guests. In fact, Burns no longer is even running a local Republican club — because the Strongsville GOP at this point is legally the Better Ohio PAC, a political action committee Burns started just nine days after Gonzalez’s fateful vote. I’ve been here five times since April, and each time I have left more convinced that what Burns is up to is emblematic of the nationalization of our grassroots political life: the apocalyptic pitch, the hostile, conspiratorial talk, the obliteration of any semblance of a lull between elections. Being around Burns and his minions this spring, summer and fall began to feel to me very much like an on-the-ground, scale-model glimpse at the building of a bridge from Trump 2020 to the impending possibility of Trump 2024.

And this month was peak proof.

Over the course of a week and a half, in this red suburban corner of Democratic Cuyahoga County, Burns went from the “Back the Blue Rally” ($40 a flag) to the Strongsville GOP clambake that went for $76 a head to the news last Thursday night that Gonzalez was not going to run for re-election. Gonzalez made national news with his retreat, the first of the 10 Republican impeachment supporters to quit in the face of Trump-driven outrage. Locally, though, his pullout had its own meaning: It sharply underscored the extent to which Burns has become the head of a field office of Trump, and a vehicle for the former president’s unrelenting efforts to exact revenge. Because if Gonzalez’s announcement was a win for Trump and for his chosen primary challenger — the favored former aide Max Miller — it was a triumph, too, for Burns.

In terms of sheer publicity, this registers as a highwater mark in his life in and around politics. But with publicity comes scrutiny. Burns, 46, a mostly middling Republican consultant and now a state central committeeman, is plainly an able and energetic schmoozer. He’s also, though, a slipshod businessman at best — and perhaps something worse as well, according to reams of county, state and federal records, which show evictions, bankruptcies, hundreds of thousands of dollars of back taxes and more than two dozen lawsuits filed against Burns and his companies. “A shyster,” one of the plaintiffs said when we talked this month. “A flimflam artist,” said another. “Scammin’ Shannon,” Ralph King, a longtime conservative activist in the area, told me. “You got the red and you got the blue, but Shannon’s ‘conservatism’ is green,” King said. “Who can put it in his scamming little pocket?” Even this, though, the fact that Burns is doing what he’s doing right now in spite of a documented litany of misconduct, is nothing if not evocative of a former president who transformed the landscape by (among of course many other things) trafficking in controversy, weaponizing his own scandals and simply plowing brazen-faced and full steam ahead.

On the Strongsville commons, Burns took to the mic — to upsell a topic that had been confined for the most part to the public-comment piece of a single meeting of the city council.

“There’s this group that put together this fake report about our police, and this fake report is trying to use some statistics that say that our police are racist,” he said, referring to Indivisible Strongsville and its request that the city council look into racial disparities of the people the police pull over. Burns paused. The crowd knew the cue. Boo! “And then they also want the ‘Thin Blue Line’ flag in headquarters to be taken down because they think that’s a racist symbol.” Boo! “Know what we said? We said, ‘Hell no,’” Burns said. “Hell no!” hollered the crowd. Before he was done, he called for the ousters of the two female members of the seven-person city council, painting them as sympathetic to Indivisible, which Burns, buzzing with buzzwords, called “gutless” and “Marxist” and “tied to George Soros.” It was a Tuesday in Middle America, and this was a miniature Trump rally.

“There’s something unique about Shannon,” Josh Mandel, arguably the most pro-Trump candidate in Ohio’s sprawling, Trump-torqued Senate primary, told me recently. “I think President Trump inspired them to become active,” Mandel said of the members of Strongsville GOP, “and I think Shannon has done a terrific job of keeping them active.”

“The fringe groups, and I wouldn’t even call them fringe groups, these are people that are just fed up, but Shannon has taken it one step further,” said a praising Jim Renacci, the 16th district congressman before Gonzalez who is now running for governor in an intraparty fight against Mike DeWine. “Shannon’s capitalizing on a couple of things,” he added, noting the anti-Joe Biden, anti-Covid-cautious-DeWine, anti-mask, anti-vaccine and anti-Gonzalez grassroots rage.

“He is an opportunist,” Doug Deeken, the GOP chair of nearby Wayne County, said when I called to talk about Burns. “And when do farmers make hay? They make hay when the sun shines. The sun is shining right now in Strongsville, and Shannon’s making hay.”

The night of the Gonzalez news, Burns crowed that the Strongsville GOP was “the tip of the spear.” The next morning, I found Burns in a “celebratory” spirit.

“It’s definitely a great day,” he said. “There’s no other way to frame it.”

The first time I saw Shannon Burns was the first time I was in Strongsville. It was at the April monthly meeting of the Strongsville GOP. I had come not because I was interested in Burns but to cover the nascent primary pitting Miller against Gonzalez. Burns was not on my radar because Burns by any normal measure was not a major player — the head, after all, of not even a county-level Republican club. With a stubborn Northeast Ohio nip in the air, that evening’s gathering was on the asphalt outskirts of the town’s huge mall sprawl, at an indoor-outdoor pub that was packed with people wearing plenty of MAGA merch but next to no masks. My own mask was so at odds with the group vibe a woman physically removed it from my face. A man, meanwhile, told me he thought the vaccines — not the virus — were going to kill millions of people. Bob Frantz, a sort of local Limbaugh, was the keynote speaker, but the person who held court on the stage by the bar was Burns. It wasn’t, though, until a Saturday in the middle of May at something Burns was billing as the Ohio Political Summit that I started to see him truly as a significant character in his own right.

For all the ways in which Florida is the foremost bastion of the Trump-led GOP, Ohio also is a white-hot epicenter, a swing state that by now has mostly swung — a state Trump won twice, a state with a governor seen by Trump supporters as too pandemic-strict, and a state that is every bit a roiling, high-stakes congressional battlefield. And Strongsville even more specifically, a site of presidential pit stops of the past, is known due to its confluence of throughways as “the Crossroads of the Nation.” In press releases, Burns hyped his summit as “the first major event of the season,” announcing a roster of most of the major GOP candidates running in the most important races — plus a one-two punch of headliners: Lauren Boebert, the heat-packing congresswoman from Colorado, and right-wing celebrity Candace Owens.

But when Burns added another eyebrow-raising, non-Ohio provocateur to the lineup — Florida congressman Matt Gaetz, mired at the time in controversy over alleged sex trafficking — many of the candidates who had committed to the event discovered they had conflicts. Reporters in the days leading up to the shindig started to hear the scuttlebutt of eleventh-hour cancellations. I had one person call me to make sure I knew — concerned I would ruin my weekend for a Burns-led dud. Not privy to these developments (because Burns was being mum) were most of the 600 people who had purchased tickets for (as he had put it in promotional materials) “Only $75.”

Outside the venue, past a Ford EcoSport SUV with window stickers saying “F— Biden” and “Trump 2024,” the line to get in stretched around a bend and down the side of the building. On the doors, signs said Ohio policy mandated masks, but basically the only people who wore them once inside were the dozen or so reporters from around the state and beyond. In the men’s room, under the soap dispenser, somebody had planted a sign of his own: “MASKS DON’T WORK!” Out in the main ballroom, where the crowd was shoulder-to-shoulder in chairs, people watched on a pair of big screens a piped-in YouTube video of Trump’s rally in Orlando from the summer of 2019. It seemed at first like maybe a way to set the mood. Before long, it became clear that it was more just to kill time. People began to look around and check their phones.

I found Burns in a corner.

“So,” I said, “the schedule …”

“Well, you’ll have to see.”

“A surprise?”

“You got it.”

For most of the rest of the morning and well into the afternoon — with the exception of Mandel, who called Gonzalez a “traitor” that “spit in Donald Trump’s face” — the candidates who took the stage to speak were lesser lights with little chance. As the people ate their box lunches, they listened to Senate candidate Mark Pukita (“if you’re a Republican and you didn’t vote to object to the certification of the Arizona and Pennsylvania election results, you need to be primaried … they need to go”), gubernatorial candidate Joe Blystone (“the only way we can change the system is take over the system”) and congressional candidate Jonah Schulz (he called DeWine “our tyrannical governor”). Late adds and slot-fillers included somebody from a Republican club in a town near Columbus, a congressional candidate from the other side of Cleveland and a congressional candidate from … Georgia. And Bob Frantz again — the local radio personality. “I can’t smell freedom through face diapers,” he said.

Owens and Gaetz, when they finally took the stage well into the afternoon, felt like relief.

“Factually speaking, we are producing the dumbest kids that have ever lived in America,” she told the crowd that had given her a standing ovation and would give her another when she finished her less-than-an-hour-long speech-plus-question-and-answer-session for which Burns’ Better Ohio PAC had cut her a check for $30,000. “But now you can major in gender studies, which is interesting, because that should be five minutes in kindergarten — two genders!”

Gaetz lauded the ways and aims of Burns and his group. “This is Donald Trump’s Republican Party, and I’m a Donald Trump Republican!” he said. “The way forward is not a repackaged version of Paul Ryan’s ‘Better Way.’ And it’s certainly not the Green New Deal and the socialist way. Isn’t it obvious by now? It is our America First ideas, not theirs, that fill the rallies and sell the tickets. I’m told that the Strongsville GOP has never sold more tickets than for today’s event. Congratulations to all of you!”

Boebert, though? A no-show.

I’ve talked to some people who heard from some people who grumbled about the rejiggered, less appealing run of show, but the people I talked to that day at the event seemed unbothered by the absence of Boebert or any of the other candidates who were supposed to have been there. No complaints of a bait and switch. No requests for refunds. And if people were angry, at least from what I heard, it wasn’t at Burns. “People are upset at the candidates that didn’t show up,” Dakota Sawyer told me. “Some people chickened out, and they’re going to take a hit for it,” Steve Kraus said. When I caught up with Gaetz in a post-speech scrum of enthusiastic selfie-seekers, he feigned ignorance that his presence might have been a reason. “They should’ve come,” he said. “There were a lot of great folks here. We had a great time.”

“It is head-scratching,” King, the conservative activist who dubbed Burns “Scammin’ Shannon,” told me this week. “The people on the right, you say you’re the smart ones, and the Democrats are dumb. You say you’re against the swamp. Yet you register no anger towards a guy that misled you. This is what the swamp thrives and survives on!”

The next day, Jeff Darcy, the editorial cartoonist from the Plain Dealer of Cleveland, sketched for the newspaper a caricature of Burns and opined that the Strongsville GOP “now appears to be acting more like a de facto Trumplican cult.”

Two weeks after that, Martin Schutte, another plaintiff in another lawsuit against Burns, sent an email to members of the Strongsville GOP. Schutte recently shared it with me. “I doubt all of you know that Shannon Burns robbed his employee’s (sic) of pay that they earned,” Schutte wrote. “This man is NOT a patriot! He is a fake Republican and a fraud!”

For most of the last decade and a half the people in politics who knew Burns knew him because of Victory Solutions. Victory Solutions, which he incorporated in 2006, according to state records, provided phones and computer software to help campaigns make more calls in less time. The Trump campaign in the 2016 cycle paid Victory Solutions $1,266,923, according to Federal Election Commission records. In the 2020 cycle, though, Victory Solutions did no work for the Trump campaign, and not that much work at all, based on FEC filings — and now is effectively shuttered because it’s so deeply indebted.

Just this past January, according to campaign finance records, Burns incorporated in Ohio a new company called WAB Holdings. It does not do business in Ohio, according to Burns. From February to June of this year, according to Texas records, WAB Holdings made a little more than $600,000 from a PAC called Save Austin Now — for “advertising” and “voter identification efforts” during a (successful) ballot initiative supporters described as an outdoor camping ban and critics considered too stringently anti-homeless. “He did all of our voter ID, all of our voter contact. He did our data analysis. He did our modeling,” Matt Mackowiak, the Austin-based GOP operative and a co-founder of Save Austin Now, told me. He added that he didn’t know much about Burns’ doings in Ohio. “I’m happy to learn more about vendors and people and their careers and things they do well,” he said, “and things they don’t do well.”

The unflattering parts of Burns’ past aren’t a secret. The Daily Beast offered up a rundown in the waning days of 2019, and it spawned some aggregation. Well beyond that coverage, though, Burns has attached to his name and the name of his companies a glut of daunting and damning county, state and federal records.

Going back to 2004, in residential apartments as well as office space, Burns has been sued for unpaid rent more than half a dozen times and evicted on at least three occasions.

Dating back to 2001, the Internal Revenue Service and state agencies have placed tax liens on Burns and his companies that add up to more than $800,000 — much of which he hasn’t paid.

In 2018, Burns filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection twice — declaring $231,901 in assets and more than $2 million in liabilities, according to records, in spite of reported earnings between 2016 and 2018 of more than $4 million. His efforts, though, were dismissed by the court, because shareholders didn’t agree to the terms.

Starting in 2001, just in Cuyahoga County, Burns has been sued more than two dozen times for unpaid wages and unpaid bills—by people who did work for him, by companies that did work for him, once by one of his own attorneys—amounts ranging from as little as just over $1,000 to more than $100,000. Burns’ chief business partner died in 2012 of brain cancer, and his widow, a minority shareholder of Victory Solutions, sued Burns for mismanaging the company and stonewalling her in any communication or ownership benefits—a case subsequently dismissed due to the bankruptcy filings. The elderly Holocaust survivor mother of his business partner sued Burns, too, alleging that she loaned him in 2009 $15,000 plus hefty interest and that he not only didn’t pay her back but ignored her calls for years after her son’s death—a case that resulted in a default judgment against Victory Solutions of $48,304.66.

“He’s a scumbag, and anybody associated with him needs to hang their head in shame,” said Elva Heuschkel, a former employee who sued him in 2013 for $3,384.61, got a court judgment in that amount and was actually paid by Burns. “I think I’m one of the few that got money from him,” she said. “I was one of the lucky ones.”

“He runs everybody through the mud,” said Schutte, who sent the email to members of the Strongsville GOP calling Burns a “fraud.” Schutte received in 2017 a judgment of $53,525.05. “He still has not paid me,” he said, “and no one makes him — like, there’s no consequences at all, and I think he knows that, so he doesn’t care. He’s, like, ‘If there’s no consequences, why should I have to do anything?’”

Schutte, who’s registered as a Democrat but insists that has nothing at all to do with his gripe, didn’t get many responses to the email he sent. But he did get some.

“Please remove me from your email list,” Jeanine Hammack, the group’s campaign chair, wrote back. Linda Savido, the events chair, said the same thing.

Burns’ odd new prominence is a byproduct of Trump’s unexpected emergence as a leader of lasting political consequence. “All I’ve done,” Burns told me this month, “is figured out how to catch the wave.”

He’s been in charge of the Strongsville GOP since early 2015 — just before Trump started running for president. In 2017, in the wake of Trump’s victory the fall before, two Republicans on the Strongsville City Council lost — in part, according to local GOP politicos, because Burns urged them to nationalize the campaign, using imagery of Trump and Hillary Clinton on mailers. But the setback and sore feelings receded, and Burns was elected in 2020 to the state central committee by presenting himself as a Trump candidate even though of course there was no such thing as a Trump endorsement in the comparatively small-potatoes race. Then came this year. In January, emboldened, Burns sniffed accelerant and cash and trained at Gonzalez his unwavering ire.

One Friday night in late June, the eve of the Trump rally in adjoining Lorain County, I made my way through the crowded dining room of the Strongsville Buffalo Wild Wings to get to a private back room. It was Strongsville GOP movie night. Burns all but reveled. I wasn’t even the only reporter there. So was Seth McLaughlin from the Washington Times. So was Sarah Ferguson from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Before he hit play on conspiracy theorist Dinesh D’Souza’s 2018 film “Death of a Nation,” Burns told the few dozen people on hand to watch Fox News in the 9 o’clock hour: “Max Miller, who is, as you know, the congressional candidate running against the evil Anthony Gonzalez, is going to be on.”

“How does Donald Trump still get a big crowd to come out and see him?” Ferguson, the Australian reporter, asked Burns. “He lost.”

Burns said no.

“He may not be in office, but I don’t concede that he lost.”

This line of thinking, an absolute article of faith at Burns’ events, coursed through the crowd on the commons in September as well. “Trump won! Trump won!” a squat woman with an arm brace and a pack of cigarettes kept yelling in the briefest of pauses in the speeches.

“How is ‘Sippy Cup Joe Biden’ gonna win an election when he can’t even say a sentence?” she said to me when I spotted her and went to talk to her after the rally was over and the crowd had started to disperse or make their way to city council. “He didn’t win that. That election was stolen.” She said she didn’t want to give her name — “’cause I don’t trust anybody” — before shifting to the debunked notion of “FEMA camps” where Biden is planning to send the unvaccinated.

“Shannon hustles,” Tom Patton, the area’s state rep, told me when I called to talk about Burns and the Strongsville GOP. “He’s got the reins, and he’s really transformed it into something more than a local little city group.”

“What I love about Shannon is just his passion for our country,” said Mark Fender, Strongsville’s chief of police. He told me the blue-line flag in the lobby of his station was going nowhere. “The flag,” he said, “has been around a lot longer than these other villanization movements against the police.”

The next morning, I met with two of the leaders of Indivisible Strongsville, Russ Smith and Beverly Masek. We drank coffee, and Smith offered toast with honey made by his beekeeping wife. They hadn’t gone to the rally the night before, or the city council, they said, because they didn’t want to play the foil for his social media feeds. Marxists? Socialists? Communists? “At election time, we’ll be the ones hanging vote-for-so-and-so on your doorknob — that’s about as wicked as we get,” Smith said. Masek and Smith gave me a copy of the letter they had written to the council, yellow highlights, blue-pen edits, saying Black drivers were “being unjustly ticketed by Strongsville Police” and referencing a “thoughtful meeting” with the city’s safety director “back in March.”

Playing a different game at a different pace, Burns was back at it the following Monday after the rally on the commons. Another bunch of people squeezed under a large white tent on the lawn adjacent to VFW Post 3345 at yet another event put on by the Strongsville GOP. For $76 a person ($140 a couple or $528 for a table) the clam bake promised a dozen clams or half a chicken, chowder, corn and rolls with butter — plus a familiar “Special Guest.” But Boebert was a no-show. Again. (Multiple spokespeople for Boebert didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment.)

Back behind another mic, Burns didn’t so much as mention her (and nobody I talked to brought her up, either). “Good evening, Strongsville!” Burns said. They prayed (“God, thank you, thank you for this wonderful crowd of like-minded people,” the first vice president said), they said the Pledge of Allegiance, they sang the national anthem, and Burns quickly introduced a handful of local polls before shifting focus. “We’re going to make certain that we are not going to have any critical race theory taught here in our schools,” he said to a rousing round of applause.

A school board candidate assured she would “fight like hell,” the executive committee chair of the county GOP urged the crowd “not to bend to the tyranny of the left,” and Mandel — the always-at-hand, not-Boebert keynote at Burns’ events — delivered a talk that rolled out like ready-made, red-meat bingo. Two genders. Critical race theory, the New York Times’ 1619 project? “Trash” and “lies.” And the election? “Stolen.”

“I hear you’re doing a hit piece on me,” Burns said as I stood off to the side. But he said it with that grin.

It’s not “a hit piece,” I said, if I’m standing here asking questions.

“I started a company, I had a lot of growth, and that growth also got me leveraged, right? And I got to a point where I was overleveraged. And it’s happened to plenty of others. What happens in that case? You get sued. Plain and simple. There’s no nefarious thing going on there, right? I employed a lot of people, and there are always ways to spin that and make it seem like you’re a terrible guy,” he said. “If people want to do that, they can.”

“But have you made people whole?” I said, knowing he has not.

“Well,” he said, “I’m only one man, right? There’s a company, right? There’s a company that had — you know, I don’t operate Victory Solutions anymore. Victory Solutions is no longer a company, since last year, right? I’ve got my own consulting firm now,” he said, meaning WAB Holdings. “And there’s no way for Victory Solutions to make it whole.”

He added later: “I was the head of the company, and I take responsibility for what happened, but I was only a 51-percent-share owner of the company. So, while ultimately the buck stops with me, I wasn’t the only owner — and, by the way, I lost more money than anyone else did.”

Besides, to some extent all publicity is good publicity, Burns suggested at the clam bake. That Darcy cartoon and commentary from May? “That one’s on my wall,” he said.

Some 72 hours later, Burns texted me a tweet — his — saying Gonzalez was “considering dropping out of the race,” saying Miller “will be the next Congressman,” saying the Strongsville GOP was “the tip of the spear.” He had tweeted it at 8:07 p.m. The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin, on the other hand, had tweeted his scoop 57 minutes later. Burns wanted to make sure I’d noticed. “I was the first one to put it out,” he said in a text.

Gonzalez, in his statement explaining his thinking, cited “the toxic dynamics inside our own party” and “the chaotic political environment that currently infects our country.”

“RINO Congressman Anthony Gonzalez, who has poorly represented his district in the Great State of Ohio, has decided to quit after a tremendous loss of popularity, of which he had little, since his ill-informed and otherwise very stupid impeachment vote against the Sitting President of the United States, me,” Trump said in an emailed statement in his bizarre strain of almost poetry.

At 10:50, he added a quick grace note: “1 down, 9 to go!”

In the interim, though, I talked to the “celebratory” Burns.

“I’m absolutely thrilled,” he said, mentioning Trump and his endorsement of Miller and the rally in Ohio on his behalf but claiming as well some credit for himself and his club. “We just kept the pressure on the whole time and never let it drop.”

People close to Gonzalez say that’s preposterous. “I can’t overestimate the zero that he is on my day-to-day life. Even commenting makes it seem like he’s more of something than he is,” one of them told me this week. “The only impact Shannon has ever had on the 16th congressional district is the time that gets taken away from my day from people calling to tell me about the next shady scam Shannon is up to.”

It’s not just Gonzalez allies who stress this. “Do we really think that Anthony Gonzalez not running for office had anything to do with Shannon Burns?” a wired, Ohio-based Republican lobbyist told me the other day. “A hundred percent — a thousand percent — not even close. I mean, the president of the United States, the former president of the United States, is attacking Anthony Gonzalez and coming to town for his opponent. And he thinks somehow Anthony resigned because of Shannon Burns?”

I’m wary, too, of giving him too much credit. At the very least, though, Burns has done more than his fair share to stoke the political terrain in which Gonzalez was going to have to run. And the environment this year for Gonzalez nonetheless went from uncomfortable to untenable. This doesn’t make Burns a genius. It makes him “an opportunist,” said the lobbyist.

“Shannon is a political version of a Kardashian,” he said, “all about creating as much chaos as possible… because if there’s chaos, he finds himself able to grow amongst that chaos.”

If the Gonzalez news, though, was for Burns a win, it was also a loss. “He lost his cause celebre,” another person close to Gonzalez said. “He’s got to find another one.” This person paused. “I’m sure he will.”

If there is a scoresheet of Burns’ performance, his critics say it ought to include some less prominent local defeats as well as the win against Gonzalez.

In an echo of the 2017 city council debacle, three Republican candidates who were set to run this fall for three at-large seats backed out due to a lack of help they expected to receive from Burns and the Strongsville GOP, local Republicans say privately. His priorities, they assessed, are elsewhere. “So let me get this straight,” King said in a tweet. Burns and his “PAC are so busy fleecing people … they forgot to find GOP candidates in his own city!” The club has commissioned a committee to read textbooks used in the local schools looking for evidence of critical race theory. The city council presumably at some point will have an answer for Indivisible Strongsville, and Burns, it’s safe to assume, won’t let that go quietly. Covid, Max Miller, Mike DeWine — even after Gonzalez, there remains plenty of national ammunition for Better Ohio PAC.

“President Trump, in order to get elected again, should he run in ’24, which I truly believe he’s going to,” Burns told me the other day, “he’s going to need guys like us, guys and gals like us, to keep the fight going right now.”

It’s movie night tonight in Strongsville. Scheduled to show in the back room of the Buffalo Wild Wings? “Trump 2024: The World After Trump.”

“This movie night,” said a still-basking Burns, “might include a few additional beers.”

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