So far, the GOP race to replace Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) has been molded by one central theme: fealty to former President Donald Trump.
Josh Mandel, the former state treasurer who ran twice against Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), insists that his burning indignation over Trump’s second impeachment is what pushed him to run in the first place.
Ever since, he has seemingly been on a mission to tweet something outrageous enough to prompt Twitter to respond, letting him rail against the “censorship” that conservatives supposedly suffer at the hands of social media companies. He succeeded last week with a poll asking his followers which “illegals” are more likely to commit crimes in the United States: “Muslim terrorists” or “Mexican gangbangers.”
Twitter flagged the tweet as a violation of its rules and, per the press release Mandel blasted out immediately after, temporarily suspended his account.
“Conservatives everywhere should be frightened by the ongoing censorship by Twitter, Facebook, Google and the liberal media,” he wrote, accusing Twitter of “silencing” him because he criticized “Biden’s border crisis.”
In a perhaps even more striking turnaround, Jane Timken, previously the chair of the Ohio Republican party, has been eager to shed positions that put her out of step with the former President.
In one such move, she hastily called on Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH) to resign for voting to impeach Trump — a denunciation that came just a month after she called him “an effective legislator” and said he must have had a reason for voting on impeachment the way he did. That brazen 180-degree turn was reportedly catalyzed by private polling showing an overwhelming majority of Ohio Republicans clamoring for Gonzalez’s ouster.
She, like Mandel, is not being coy about her hunger for a Trump endorsement: she recently took a bold stand supporting a local lawmaker’s effort to rename a local park for the former President, and has described her whole reason for running as a desire to “fight for the Trump agenda.”
Her efforts have not been good enough yet: a March Axios report captured Trump’s advisers urging him not to endorse her — or anyone — this early. It included a detail likely chilling to Timken: Trump is questioning whether she’s sufficiently loyal to him.
She has since devoted her Twitter feeds to the Republican red meat of the day, primarily the situation at the border and particularly the GOP linguistic insistence that the Biden administration use the word “crisis” to describe it. On Monday, she sent out a press release shaming President Joe Biden for traveling to Ohio to tout the COVID-19 relief package rather than putting in an appearance at the southern border.
Author J.D. Vance, who has not yet announced a run but is watching a supportive Super PAC rake in millions on his behalf, has been striking a similar tone on social media.
Amid tweeting about Dr. Seuss, amplifying his many media hits with rightwing figures like Tucker Carlson and Charlie Kirk and attacking corporate elites, the venture capitalist has also winked at the QAnon conspiracy theory.
“Someone should have asked Jeffrey Epstein, John Weaver, or Leon Black about the CRAZY CONSPIRACY that many powerful people were predators targeting children,” he tweeted last month.
The conspiracy holds that a messianic Trump is waging a crusade against the “deep state,” a shadow government populated by pedophilic Democrats and elites.
It’s not hard to see where this Trumpy trend is coming from — the former President won Ohio handily in both 2016 and 2020, and the state’s demographic shifts particularly in small towns and rural areas are trending red.
The GOP hopefuls (and likely hopeful) also have no Democratic opponents to attack yet. Politicians like Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), state House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes and former Health Department Director Amy Acton are all mulling bids, but have yet to announce.
Still, the shift is marked. For a party whose candidates once would have bragged about their independence from anything or anyone Washington-adjacent, this crop is unabashed in its competition to see who can woo the former President first.