Former Lyndhurst Mayor Joe Cicero called him a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”
and “inadequate as a human being.” Brent Larkin, the dean of Ohio political writers, described him as a “bottom feeder” of “unsurpassed intellectual dishonesty,” for whom “no gutter is too deep, no shot too cheap.”
Meet Josh Mandel, a man for our times.
Ohio’s former state treasurer is among the early contenders to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Rob Portman
. He bills himself as a “Trump warrior” and “the most conservative candidate in the race.” Yet despite years as a career politician, Mandel has always been an elusive species, “known for his reluctance to voice clear and specific thoughts on current issues,”
as the Plain Dealer once wrote.
What we do know is that he will soon be appearing on a television near you. Approach with extreme caution.
The Making of an Action Figure
There was a time Josh was considered the Boy Wonder of Ohio Republicans. He served in the Marines. Married into the Ratner dynasty
. Got elected to the Lyndhurst City Council, the Ohio House, the state treasurer’s office.
He was everything you wanted in a budding conservative star — a prettier Ted Cruz, a Lindsey Graham action figure. He spoke constantly of “fighting.” There were TV commercials featuring Josh in Marine fatigues. Unlike other politicians, who presumably fought for Belgium or Senegal, he was fighting for “America First.”
Yet his battles were mostly those tests of competitive outrage of the Culture Wars. He fought bravely to keep cockfighting from becoming a felony
. He spoke heroically of dying for the cause. As in: “Over our dead body will Cincinnati become a sanctuary city." With few ideas of his own, he preferred to torpedo the ideas of others. And he did so with the tenor of a mean eight-year-old whose parents wondered where it all went wrong. Ohio grew suspicious.
That was evident in 2012, when he challenged U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown. Josh posed as a working man’s hero. Brown was the genuine article. It didn’t go well.
He challenged Brown again six years later, only to drop out due to his wife’s unspecified health troubles.
By 2019, Josh left the treasurer’s office to do what politicians do best: cash in. He quadrupled his income by serving on the boards of bank, insurance, and financial services companies.
The hours were few and the pay aplenty. But the boardroom was no place for a man raised on the mean streets of Beachwood, where shopping for a cashmere crewneck meant taking your life in your hands. Josh wanted back in.
Of Boiled Blood & Fighting Men
After the Jan. 6 insurrection, the GOP’s corporate wing raised the white flag. The party had gone rabid, a species more exotic by the day. Portman was in the last throes of dignity. He could stomach no more.
The Republican field to replace him would be standing room only. Josh came out swinging. He cast himself as the heir to Trump.
“Watching this sham impeachment has made my blood boil and motivated me to run,” he said.
It was quintessential Mandel – the implication of victimhood matched by vague, simmering anger. There was no need for details. For the GOP base, the important thing was to appear furious. And fighting. Josh Mandel: Standing Sentry Against Stuff You Don’t Like.
He jumped headfirst into the fraud of election fraud. Even Josh knew that after 60-some lawsuits, there was zero evidence of a stolen election. So he reframed his case along the lines of They’re Coming to Take Your Guns — as a threat that never actually occurs, but is bound to happen sometime, somewhere, if you just keep saying it will.
"I think over time, we're going to see studies come out that evidence widespread fraud,” he postured. “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.”
Surely Josh knew that these decades of studies had already taken place – even by Trump himself
. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that dark forces are arrayed against you, dear voter. Fortunately, Josh will be standing by your side. Ready to fight. With the record to prove it.
The Muslims are Coming
The year was 2010. Josh decided to claim the job of Ohio Treasurer Kevin Boyce. It’s a largely custodial post without much sex appeal for the viewers at home. Josh needed to spice the race.
Boyce had hired Walaa Waeda, the wife of lobbyist Noure Alo, to serve as his secretary for the princely sum of $37,500 a year. As corruption went, it couldn’t compare to a House speaker taking $60 million from an energy company. But there was a case to be made against hiring a lobbyist’s wife.
Yet Josh saw something far more nefarious: Waeda is a Muslim. Which naturally meant that Boyce is a Muslim. One that wouldn’t hire Christians.
A TV ad soon aired, with the voiceover claiming that Boyce had given Waeda “a sensitive job in the treasurer’s office, a job Boyce admitted he only made available at their mosque.”
It closed with the requisite image of Josh in fatigues.
There was one tiny problem. Boyce is a Methodist. Which makes him not very Muslim. But he is Black. For Josh, that was close enough.
The outcry was immediate. Salon named it one of the “five most anti-Muslim ads of the year.” Within a week, Josh had pulled it. Yet to the low-information legions of the GOP base, the point was set: Josh fights for God & Country. Boyce is a goddamned Muslim.
The Ratner Rebellion
By 2012, most believed the GOP’s Gay Demonization Strategy was spent, lest your own kids think you an asshole. But Josh was ahead of his time. Long before Trump, he adhered to the Real Men Don’t Apologize Doctrine, believing it weakness to ever rethink a position. He continued to do battle with same-sex marriage, domestic partner benefits, anti-discrimination laws, and open service in the military.
Josh Mandel: Protecting You From Loving, Long-Term Relationships.
It just so happened that his now ex-wife Ilana’s cousin, Ellen Ratner, was married to Cholene Espinoza, an Air Force Academy grad and only the second woman to fly a U-2 reconnaissance plane. Josh was raining bullets on the family tree. The Ratners were not pleased.
Eight cousins penned an open letter in the Cleveland Jewish News
, expressing their hurt that Josh would “embrace discrimination against them and other loving couples.”
The text was polite yet searing. They lamented Josh’s “discriminatory stance that violates these core values of our family.” They hoped that over time, “as you advance in years and wisdom, you will come to embrace the values of inclusiveness and equality.”
Josh knew better. You don’t make Fox & Friends by being nice to your family. And within the Republican base, hating thy neighbor is seen as an act of truth and bravery. Instead of backing off, he doubled down.
Josh Fights White Genocide
Of all the great Culture Wars, nothing quite matches White Genocide. It’s the theory that, after 2,000 years of undefeated world dominance, the white man is somehow beaten and besieged. In 2017, the Anti-Defamation League produced a guide to 36 purveyors of such thought. Among them were Jack Posobiec and Mike Cernovich.
Posobiec peddles logic-free tales of villainy, such as the one that has Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring from a Washington, D.C. pizza shop.
Cernovich hews closer to a conservative talk radio format. He believes that date rape is liberal fiction, that Black women should be “slut-shamed” to keep them from getting AIDS, that “diversity” is “code for white genocide.”
It might all be dismissed as the bleating of small, cognitively challenged men. But such talk had a way of spurring other small men to battle. One believer of “Pizzagate” stormed the shop, firing an assault rifle. Others would be known for a more impressive conquest: Storming the U.S. Capitol.
To Josh, they’re simply known as “my base.” He assumed his fighting stance, accusing the ADL of becoming “a partisan witchhunt group targeting people for political beliefs," he tweeted. "I stand with @Cernovich & @JackPosobiec."
By then, the Trump years were in full roar. The smart pol knew that if you wanted to rise in this man’s party, your choice was to go full nutjob or be left behind. There was little doubt where Josh would head.
Friend of the Swamp
Ben Suarez can be best described as a Swamp Creature: Ohio Edition. He was the head of Suarez Corporate Industries in North Canton, a direct-marketing firm that peddled vitamins, supplements, and weight-loss pills of questionable value – at least in the eyes of certain district attorneys.
The year was 2011, and 10 California prosecutors were investigating Suarez for deceptive advertising, unfair competition, and violating a court injunction. So he turned to a friend of the swamp, Josh Mandel.
The company wanted Josh to write his fellow state treasurer in California, threatening to sue if the probe wasn’t killed. Josh was given a letter, which he simply copied and pasted onto official stationery.
As strongarm tactics go, it was a rather toothless play. Ohio had no basis to sue. And treasurers have no say over prosecutors anyway. Yet the company was clearly grateful. Within days, its employees were pumping cash into Josh’s campaign fund.
Weirdly enough, this looked suspicious. Instead of killing the inquiry out west, the plot would only produce a second investigation in Ohio.
It ended with sad trombones. Suarez paid $1.8 million to settle in California. And though he escaped a campaign finance conviction back home, he spent a year in prison for jury tampering.
Josh was never charged. Under gentleman’s rules of bribery, politicians are rarely indicted for selling their office. His image may have been sullied. Josh Mandel: Fighting for Miracle Weight-Loss Supplements! But by then, the GOP had dumped its mission of “traditional family values.” It was now on a strict diet of red meat — and didn’t much care where it came from. Josh was a supplier always in stock.
Job Killers & Dead Bodies
Take abortion, conservatism’s benchmark issue. Josh’s position can be distilled as “Put your uterus concerns aside, ladies. I’ll handle it from here.”
He once pledged to back a ban on abortions even when a mother’s life is threatened. He would later backpedal, but cases of rape and incest remained off the table. Gushed the National Right to Life News
: “If you are a Mandel follower, you see an indefatigable worker with charm to spare who has the wind at his back.”
Though Obamacare tempered costs, gave coverage to millions, and kept the sick from being cursed by preexisting conditions, Josh assailed it nonetheless, with no alternative of his own. He ominously described it as a “job killer,” his go-to denunciation. His preference was to leave such matters to the private sector, which had given us the highest medical costs on the planet. But a strong man never rethinks his position.
The same was true of climate change. He claimed the research was “riddled with fraud.”
Vowed to fight clean-air standards “over our dead bodies.” Condemned the “radical special interest groups . . . killing energy jobs and manufacturing jobs in Ohio.”
When pressed for details, he pleaded ignorance. “I’ve never claimed to be a scientist, and I never will.” Yet it did grant him license to overrule actual scientists.
During one speech to coal miners in Beallsville, he railed, dipping into a fake Southern accent found nowhere in the friendly confines of Beachwood
, against the “War on Coal,” neglecting to note that its main foe was cheaper, cleaner natural gas. He again turned to the dead body theme. “For any of these folks trying to get between us and affordable, reliable, dependable energy, we have four words for them: Over! Our! Dead! Bodies!”
How he’ll save the miners is anyone’s guess. Josh doesn’t traffic in details. What’s important is that he’s Josh Mandel: Defender of the Working Man. Over his dead body, which received a J.D. from the Case Western Reserve University School of Law and which earned $397,000 in 2020, will the “country club Republican set” and the “Harvard elite look down on the people of Ohio.”
For the next 20 months, the most dangerous place in Ohio will be between Josh and a TV camera. He’ll be a scatter gun of made-for-cable soundbites with ammo to spare. Many will be trained on his own party.
Anyone can rail against the “radical leftist agenda.” The true artists have moved to outing the Judases of the GOP.
“I’m going to take on squishy Republicans just as much as I’ll take on liberal Democrats,” he declared in announcing his candidacy. “I’m going to Washington to pulverize the uniparty. And the uniparty in my mind is that cabal of Democrats and Republicans who sound the same, stand for nothing, and are more interested in going to cocktail parties than they are in defending the Constitution."
Josh, by contrast, will be standing tall for “freedom” and halting the “assault on American values.”
He has yet to say what will happen when the pulverizing is complete. There’s no plan for, say, a fairer economy. No ideas to help us emerge from a deadly pandemic. In fact, Josh is perfectly happy to accept more death. His latest attacks target “squishy establishment” Gov. Mike DeWine and the “tyranny” of mask mandates.
"There's no science or math that shows that it's been helpful," says Josh
, ignoring all the science and math that says it’s helpful. “We need to stop the mask mandates immediately. And I will stop wearing a mask.”
It’s the kind of bold leadership voters can expect from Mandel. A willingness to sacrifice his soul and your life, all for a higher purpose: The advancement of Josh.