CLEVELAND — An official spokesperson for Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose is out of a job, days after his tweets — including some critical of former President Donald Trump — became fodder for LaRose’s political opponents.
Rob Nichols, a veteran Republican communications operative who had served as press secretary for LaRose’s office, was fired because of the tweets Tuesday, three sources with knowledge of the situation told NBC News.
An interim press secretary, Mary Cianciolo, confirmed Wednesday in an email that Nichols is no longer employed by the secretary of state's office but declined further comment. Nichols, reached by telephone, declined to comment.
The firing comes at a turbulent time for LaRose, who is also a GOP Senate candidate. He is fresh off being the face of a losing ballot issue that would have raised the threshold for amending the Ohio Constitution months and jeopardized an abortion-rights measure up for a vote in November.
And LaRose’s supportive comments made about then-Vice President Mike Pence’s role in certifying the 2020 election also caught Trump’s attention last week, raising speculation that LaRose was losing a race for Trump’s endorsement to primary rival Bernie Moreno.
The trouble for Nichols began last week, when a progressive activist in Ohio shared screen grabs of late night tweets responding to her on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter and asked publicly if the account belonged to Nichols. The account, which has since been deleted, did not identify Nichols by his full name or job, but those close to him acknowledge it was his.
A left-wing Columbus blogger soon picked up the story of Nichols’ account. Arthur Schwartz, a Trump ally, and Andy Surabian, an adviser to Moreno’s campaign, called attention to several Nichols’ tweets that had been critical of Trump, including some that commented on his weight and others on his legal troubles. Then the right-wing Breitbart News produced a story on the matter.
“Frank the Fraud and his entire RINO team have always been anti-Trump,” Surabian tweeted, using the pejorative acronym for “Republican in name only.”
Trump was influential in now-Sen. JD Vance’s emergence from Ohio’s crowded GOP Senate primary in 2022 and could play a similar role in 2024. Moreno, once a Trump critic, already has Vance's endorsement and has grown closer to and received public encouragement from Trump.
LaRose also has been a Trump critic in the past and has voiced concerns about how the former president has raised baseless claims of election fraud to explain his loss in the 2020 election. But LaRose also accepted Trump’s endorsement last year when he was seeking re-election as secretary of state, recently endorsed Trump’s 2024 presidential bid and has made clear he’d like Senate race backing in return.
Asked last week by NBC News’ Chuck Todd if Pence was right to ignore Trump’s pressure to block certification of the 2020 election results. LaRose tiptoed around the question, saying he believed that Pence “made the best decision he could with the information in front of him.”
A source close to Trump later said Trump had seen video of the interview and indicated that any expectation that Trump would remain neutral in the Ohio Senate race — despite praising Moreno, he has not officially backed a candidate — was misguided. A LaRose strategist, meanwhile, sought to clarify the Pence comments as neither agreement or praise. And on Tuesday the LaRose campaign tweeted an old photo of the secretary of state standing alongside Trump, claiming that “Democrats are afraid of a Trump/LaRose ticket.”
Nichols previously served as a press secretary to former Ohio Gov. John Kasich and, like LaRose, worked on Kasich’s unsuccessful campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
“Rob is talented and liked by the media because he’s responsive, informed and a grown-up,” a former state government colleague said of Nichols, who requested anonymity to weigh in on a divisive intra-party issue. “He’s also uncommonly loyal and a fierce defender of his boss, and he takes that mission to social media, where he’s spicy in keeping with it.”
“Dumping a hardworking, popular guy to chase an endorsement you’ll never get from someone whose values don’t align with who you are historically,” the former colleague added, “is going to have a chilling effect on your team and hurt you in the long run.”