The juxtaposition was striking.
In Washington, the House impeachment managers showed harrowing footage of the January 6 Capitol riot, a melee triggered by months of former President Donald Trump insisting, without evidence, that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
In Ohio, Republican Josh Mandel announced his campaign for the state’s open US Senate seat – and insisted that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.
Here’s what Mandel told a local TV station on the subject of 2020:
“I think over time, we’re going to see studies come out that evidence widespread fraud. You know, what you see with any type of fraud, it usually takes time to investigate it and to dig it out, and it might be months, it might be years, it might be decades. But I think when we look back on this election, we’ll see in large part that it was stolen from President Trump.”
So, yeah. That tells you a whole lot about where aspiring statewide Republicans – and Mandel is considered an early favorite to be the Republican nominee to replace retiring Sen. Rob Portman (R) – feel like they need to be on Trump and 2020. And it’s in lockstep with the former President.
Need more evidence?
In an interview with Punchbowl News published Thursday morning, Mandel was asked whether he planned to endorse Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s reelection bid in 2022. (DeWine has been far more proactive in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic than other GOP governors).
“The only race I’m focused on is my race for the United States Senate,” said Mandel. “But I will tell you that I think the governor that has best handled coronavirus nationally is [Florida] Gov. Ron DeSantis. I applaud Gov. DeSantis for having the guts and the backbone to keep small businesses open and keep schools open.”
Oh boy. So I guess we are doing away with any sort of subtlety, then?
DeSantis is, in case you have been hiding under some coats the last few years, the Trump-iest governor in the country. He’s been resistant to mask mandates (he didn’t wear a mask for at least part of his time at Super Bowl LV on Sunday) and generally skeptical of mitigation efforts for the virus.
The message here is simple: Mandel wants every Trump backer (and the former President himself) to know that he is 100% with them. On, well, everything. (Mandel told Punchbowl that he has “been President Trump’s number one ally in Ohio.”)
And so, even as the Senate impeachment trial rolls on – and we all debate how many Republican senators might vote to convict Trump on a charge of inciting an insurrection – the harsh political reality on the ground is abundantly clear: Candidates like Mandel believe that the way to win in a Republican primary is to stick as close to Trump as possible – up to and including throwing in with his spurious allegations about a stolen election.
All of which bodes poorly for those establishment Republicans – like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – hoping to put Trump in the party’s rear-view mirror.
There’s just no evidence to suggest that the people who are running for office in 2022 in high-profile races have any interest in separating from Trump. Quite the contrary, in fact. Candidates like Mandel are going out of their way to embrace every aspect of Trumpism – including the debunked ones like the former President’s ridiculous claims about the 2020 election.
Talk – like we are seeing right now in the Senate impeachment trial – is one thing. Action is another. And the action in the GOP these days is (still) all Trump.