Jane Timken is polling poorly in the GOP primary race for the Ohio Senate seat. And with the moribund and completely failed Ohio Democratic Party refusing to stay neutral and instead endorsing the uninspiring nothing candidate last night, the winner of the GOP primary can be pretty sure of going to Washington next year. But Timken released that slyly hilarious ad up top this morning. Every poll over the last year shows Timken trailing badly, usually in the #4 spot behind Josh Mandel, Mike Gibbons and J.D. Vance. She is ahead of super-wealthy state Sen. Matt Dolan, the only candidate in the race not running on an overtly MAGA platform. This week retiring Senator Rob Portman endorsed Timken, which helped her raise some money but will do little to change the dynamics of a truly pathetic race that will be decided by Trump's endorsement.
Timken has been endorsed by Trump-world characters Kellanne Conway and Kristi Noem. Gibbons has former Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien (and Rand Paul). Mandel has endorsements from David Friedman (Trump's ambassador to Israel) plus Mike Lee, Mark Levin and Club for Growth. Vance has the most impressive roster of MAGA-nut endorser: Peter Thiel, Tucker Carlson, Marjorie Traitor Greene, Josh Hawley and Trump appointees Robert Lighthizer (Trade Rep), Andrew Wheeler (EPA) and Robert O'Brien (National Security Advisor). Thiel is buying endorsements for Thiel and that will eventually include Señor Trumpanzee.
The worm-like Mandel is absolutely the candidate willing to degrade himself most blatantly and shamelessly to appeal to Trump and the MAGA crowd and he is likely to win the GOP nomination. A couple of days ago, the NY Times revealed how the spineless and transactional Mandel wasn't all that supportive of Trump when Trump needed-- and asked for-- his help before he clinched his own 2016 primary nomination. (Mandel backed Rubio.) Trump doesn't forget that kind of stuff but is likely to endorse whomever he thinks will win (or Thiel's candidate if Thiel gives him enough money).
Friends, strategists and supporters who powered his start in public life say that Mandel has so thoroughly rejected his political roots in Cleveland’s liberal-leaning suburbs that he is nearly unrecognizable to them. Some are convinced that his shift began as a clear political calculation-- following his party to the right. But with his recent entrenchment on the fringe, many now wonder if it is not just Mandel’s public identity that has changed, but also his beliefs.
“He’s twisting himself into something he wasn’t, just to win an election.” said [ex-friend and GOP lobbyist Matt] Cox, who is not a Trump supporter and has donated to Mandel’s opponents. “Telling obvious lies,” he said, “is not part of the game. It’s intentional. And you have to believe that, if you say it that often.”
Mandel has burned protective masks and blamed the “deep state” for the pandemic and has claimed that former President Barack Obama runs the current White House. He has rejected the separation of church and state and said that he wants to “shut down government schools and put schools in churches and synagogues.” The grandson of Holocaust survivors who were aided by resettlement organizations, he has compared a federal vaccine-or-testing mandate to the actions of the Gestapo, and today’s Afghan refugees to “alligators.”
And he denies that President Biden was legitimately elected. “He is my president,” Mr. Mandel said recently in a video, pointing to a Trump sign in an Ohio cornfield.
“I want to believe that this is a character he is playing,” said Rob Zimmerman, a Democrat and former city councilman from Shaker Heights, Ohio. Mr. Zimmerman spent hours advising and fund-raising for Mandel, viewing him as a politician who could bridge partisan divides. “It is jaw-droppingly different. The Josh Mandel of 2003-- of 2016, even-- would not recognize the Josh Mandel of 2021.”
“This,” Zimmerman added, “has broken my heart.”
...Mandel has disputed that his politics have changed, arguing instead that he is in sync with the people he hopes to represent. “The voters in Ohio in the past two presidential elections have made it very clear, they don’t want a moderate running Ohio or running America,” he told a local cable news station after announcing his candidacy last year. “I’m the opposite of a moderate.”
Other Republicans challenge Mr. Mandel’s assessment of what most Ohio voters want. Brad Kastan, a Republican donor who has known Mandel for two decades, said he worried that the candidate was “painting himself into a corner so far out that he can’t win” in a general election.
This morning, Politico Magazine featured a Mandel story by Michael Kruse. At his debate with Morgan Harper a few weeks ago he went all out MAGA and badly lost the debate, at least in the eyes of normal people, "He called Black Lives Matter activists 'thugs,'" wrote Kruse. "He called 'the transgender movement' 'insane.' He called Covid-19 'a bioweapon manufactured by the Chinese Communist Party' to defeat Donald Trump. He talked about the 'seep' of 'illegals' at the border, describing the emigration of Haitians, Hondurans, Mexicans and Guatemalans as an 'invasion' 'funded' by George Soros, 'orchestrated' by Barack Obama and 'enabled' by Joe Biden. He said he didn’t believe in the separation of church and state because 'there’s no such thing.' And he suggested he didn’t need or even want traditional GOP support. He made a fist and patted his chest at his heart. 'I wear as a badge of honor,' said Josh Mandel, with two quick curls of his lip and a self-satisfied smirk, 'that the establishment in the Republican Party hates me.'"
A notoriously over-ambitious opportunist, liar and flip-flopper-- who went from pretend moderate to full-fledged aggressive fascist-- people are starting to wonder who Josh Mandel really is.
Can you imagine sitting down to have a beer with Josh Mandel?” a former Trump campaign higher-up told me the other day. “He’d probably think, like, ‘Should I drink alcohol? OK, I should — I should drink. It’s OK to drink alcohol. It’s a bar. Well, what kind of beer should I have? It’s gotta be domestic, can’t drink Heineken, you know? Is there an Ohio microbrew I should have? Should I have that? I’d really like a wine, but I can’t drink a wine, obviously.’” He paused. “It’s a hard life to live,” he said, “when that’s your inner monologue.”
“I’ve always looked at his life from afar and said, ‘That looks exhausting,’” said an Ohio Republican consultant who’s known Mandel since college. “He’s always been on the lookout for, like, how do I advance, how do I angle?”
“He will do,” former Ohio Democratic Party chair David Pepper told me, “whatever he needs to do.”
“It’s been his life’s work and aspiration,” Scott Guthrie, his longest-serving aide and current campaign manager, once said in a text to a fellow Mandel staffer.
...Unlike 10 or 12 years back, when scurrilous tactics led to some public contrition, such ad hominem attacks now are a key component of his campaign. In the more than a year since Mandel launched his third run for the Senate, anchored by “Faith & Freedom” rallies at church after church, he’s gotten himself temporarily booted from Twitter for his crass and bigoted posts. He’s called Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, members of Congress, “terrorist spokesmen.” He’s called congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez “a pollutant.” He’s called family members of Martin Luther King Jr. “race politics profiteers,” “lapdogs” and “charlatans.” He’s gone to Arizona to be seen outside the politically motivated audit of the 2020 election and has been an outspoken proponent of the lie that Trump won. He’s compared Afghan refugees to “alligators.” He’s said the founding fathers would have “tarred and feathered” Anthony Fauci. He’s gone to New York to stand inside a Cheesecake Factory to denounce vaccine mandates. He’s gotten himself kicked out of a school board meeting in suburban Cincinnati. He’s lit a mask on fire at the bottom of a stairwell with his back against a wall. He, the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, has likened the federal government to the Gestapo. “Now,” he has taken to saying, “is not the time for civility.”
The primary is two and a half months away, and it’s impossible to predict its result. Gibbons, Timken and Vance have big-name operatives from the Trump orbit on their teams, but that has not led to an endorsement. According to a recent report in the Daily Beast, Trump thinks Mandel is “weird” and that he doesn’t have the “look,” which matters, but typically the paramount consideration for the former president is to tap the winner or punish a foe. And here it’s unclear on both fronts. A poll last week showed Gibbons just ahead of Mandel. A poll this week showed the reverse. Gibbons is airing a new ad going after Timken and Vance-- but not his closest competitor and the usual leader. (In a sign of Mandel’s shaky standing with the Ohio establishment, Portman, who once endorsed him for Senate, this time has backed Timken.) “Mr. President,” Mandel reportedly told Trump early in the spring of last year at his golf club in Florida, “I only know two ways to do things: either not at all, or balls to the wall. I hired a bunch of killers on my team. I’m a killer, and we’re going to win the primary and then the general.”
“He is what has become of the Republican Party,” said the Democratic operative who spent years working against Mandel. “And at some point, he thought to himself, ‘Let’s stop moving the chess pieces. Let’s throw over the whole fucking table.’ And guess what? That’s what Republicans want you to do. And that’s what is working. And that’s the campaign he’s running. And that is who he is.”
“He’s just a guy that will do whatever it takes,” said an Ohio-based Republican operative who has known Mandel for more than 20 years. “I don’t know that there’s anything else inside at this point.”
“The Trump phenomenon makes it easy for people who don’t have any conscience, or their conscience is one of convenience, to seek the new reality,” said Dennis Eckart, the longtime Ohio Democratic strategist. “And if you have high name ID, and you have no qualms about becoming whatever it is you need to be, it’s a natural time for someone like Josh Mandel.”
People say he’s changed, but it’s not quite right. Whatever he needs to be is what he’s always been. To those who have known him and watched him the longest, Mandel is campaigning in this hostile, Trump-twisted moment with a mania they recognize but an animus they don’t. They wonder if he means it. They wonder if he knows better. They look at that familiar baby face, heavier and more haggard, and wonder if there remain pangs of remorse.
Please consider contributing to Morgan Harper's campaign. She's the only Democrat in the race who could stop Mandel.