How Josh Mandel, Son of Suburban Ohio, Turned a Proper-Wing Warrior

BEACHWOOD, Ohio — Within the fall of 2016, Donald J. Trump’s presidential marketing campaign was urgent Ohio’s younger state treasurer, Josh Mandel, to step it up. A former Marine, he held some sway with Republican voters, and Trump aides needed him doing extra public occasions.

However Mr. Mandel couldn’t fairly discover the time. He simply had so many scheduling conflicts, he joked over breakfast with Matt Cox, a Republican lobbyist and, on the time, a pal. Mr. Cox recalled Mr. Mandel rattling off the justifications he used to keep away from being too intently linked to a candidate he wasn’t bought on: Operating after his three youngsters, different political commitments, his observance of all these Jewish holidays.

As soon as Mr. Trump gained, any reluctance from Mr. Mandel fell away quick. Inside weeks, he spoke on the president-elect’s first victory rally, slamming those that have been “avoiding Trump” throughout the election. 5 days after the rally, he launched his second bid for Senate, borrowing Mr. Trump’s catchphrases of a “rigged system” and “drain the swamp” for his announcement video.

Mr. Mandel has not seemed again. As he runs for the U.S. Senate in Ohio, the 44-year-old politician has develop into one of many nation’s most strident crusaders for Trumpism, melding conspiracy theories and white grievance politics to amass a following that has made him a number one contender for the G.O.P. nomination on this Republican-leaning state.

His political evolution — from a son of suburban Cleveland to warrior for the Make America Nice Once more motionisn’t distinctive. Throughout the nation, rising stars of the pre-Trump period have shed the standard Republicanism of their previous to observe Mr. Trump’s far-right model of politics, cementing the previous president’s affect over the subsequent technology of the get together’s leaders.

However Mr. Mandel’s transformation has been significantly hanging. Mates, strategists and supporters who powered his begin in public life say that Mr. Mandel has so completely rejected his political roots in Cleveland’s liberal-leaning suburbs that he’s practically unrecognizable to them. Some are satisfied that his shift started as a transparent political calculation — following his get together to the appropriate. However along with his latest entrenchment on the perimeter, many now surprise if it isn’t simply Mr. Mandel’s public id that has modified, but additionally his beliefs.

“He’s twisting himself into one thing he wasn’t, simply to win an election.” mentioned Mr. Cox, who will not be a Trump supporter and has donated to Mr. Mandel’s opponents. “Telling apparent lies,” he mentioned, “will not be a part of the sport. It’s intentional. And it’s important to consider that, in the event you say it that usually.”

Mr. Mandel has burned protecting masks and blamed the “deep state” for the pandemic and has claimed that former President Barack Obama runs the present White Home. He has rejected the separation of church and state and mentioned that he needs to “shut down authorities faculties and put faculties in church buildings and synagogues.” The grandson of Holocaust survivors who have been aided by resettlement organizations, he has in contrast a federal vaccine-or-testing mandate to the actions of the Gestapo, and at this time’s Afghan refugees to “alligators.”

And he denies that President Biden was legitimately elected. “He is my president,” Mr. Mandel mentioned lately in a video, pointing to a Trump register an Ohio cornfield.

“I need to consider that it is a character he’s taking part in,” mentioned Rob Zimmerman, a Democrat and former metropolis councilman from Shaker Heights, Ohio. Mr. Zimmerman spent hours advising and fund-raising for Mr. Mandel, viewing him as a politician who might bridge partisan divides. “It’s jaw-droppingly completely different. The Josh Mandel of 2003 — of 2016, even — wouldn’t acknowledge the Josh Mandel of 2021.”

“This,” Mr. Zimmerman added, “has damaged my coronary heart.”

Mr. Mandel declined to be interviewed for this text. Since launching this marketing campaign, his third for the Senate, he has largely spoken by means of conservative media shops and his lively Twitter feed, which was restricted final 12 months for violating the platform’s guidelines on “hateful conduct.” (Mr. Mandel created a ballot asking which “illegals” — both “Muslim Terrorists” or “Mexican Gangbangers” — would commit extra crimes.)

When a reporter for The New York Occasions attended a marketing campaign occasion on Jan. 25 at a church in Troy, Ohio, Mr. Mandel singled him out and denounced the newspaper in Trump-like phrases, calling it “the enemy of the individuals” and “evil.”

Elsewhere, Mr. Mandel has disputed that his politics have modified, arguing as a substitute that he’s in sync with the individuals he hopes to characterize. “The voters in Ohio previously two presidential elections have made it very clear, they don’t need a reasonable working Ohio or working America,” he advised an area cable information station after saying his candidacy final 12 months. “I’m the alternative of a reasonable.”

Different Republicans problem Mr. Mandel’s evaluation of what most Ohio voters need. Brad Kastan, a Republican donor who has identified Mr. Mandel for 20 years, mentioned he nervous that the candidate was “portray himself right into a nook thus far out that he can’t win” in a common election.

In a state that has moved to the appropriate, backing Mr. Trump by eight share factors in 2020, Mr. Mandel has been polling forward of his main rivals, together with Jane Timken, a former head of the Ohio Republican Celebration, and J.D. Vance, an writer made well-known by his memoir “Hillbilly Elegy.” A lot of the first has revolved round profitable Mr. Trump’s endorsement.

Final spring, when summoned together with different candidates to Mar-a-Lago to jockey for Mr. Trump’s assist, Mr. Mandel promised to carry nothing again to win the seat, in accordance with an individual with data of the assembly who requested for anonymity to disclose a personal dialog.

Mr. Mandel’s stridency has shocked some in Beachwood, an prosperous, predominantly Democratic suburb dotted with synagogues, the place Mr. Mandel was a quarterback for his highschool soccer crew after which married right into a rich Cleveland household.

Mr. Mandel confirmed an early expertise for standing out in a crowd at Ohio State, the place he erected a 30-foot inflatable King Kong on the campus inexperienced to attract consideration to his run for scholar authorities and gained the presidency, twice.

Shortly after graduating from the College of Legislation at Case Western Reserve, he gained a Metropolis Council seat in Lyndhurst, a Cleveland suburb, drawing on assist from his tight-knit group. When Albert Ratner, a significant actual property developer and Ohio energy dealer, hosted a fund-raiser for Mr. Mandel, the candidate made a degree of downplaying his Republican affiliation: “I actually don’t care about partisanship,” he mentioned, in accordance with a number of individuals who recounted the gathering.

Mr. Mandel attended only one Metropolis Council assembly earlier than deploying to Iraq as an intelligence specialist within the Marine Corps Reserve. On his return journey dwelling, his re-entry into U.S. airspace was introduced at a highschool soccer sport to a cheering crowd.

At 29, he gained a seat within the Ohio Legislature, the place he confirmed a eager understanding of the conservative causes that energized get together activists. At one level, he took on the State Home speaker, a fellow Republican, over a coverage requiring ministers who led prayers within the chamber to submit their remarks prematurely. The rationale was to keep away from proselytizing within the Legislature. Mr. Mandel declared it an affront to non secular liberty.

“You understand who fought the battle for our spiritual freedom? A 28-year-old Jewish man,” mentioned Lori Viars, an abortion-rights opponent who helps Mr. Mandel’s Senate bid. “I used to be so happy to see him standing up when actually no others did.”

Operating for state treasurer in 2010, Mr. Mandel was accused of trafficking in Muslim stereotypes after a marketing campaign advert falsely implied that Kevin Boyce, the Democratic incumbent and Black man, was a Muslim.

However Mr. Mandel’s response to the criticism cuts a distinction with the “fighter” picture that he tasks at this time. His marketing campaign pulled the advert and he expressed remorse, each publicly and privately to Mr. Boyce.

“I believe he had a way of what’s proper and what’s incorrect, and I believe he knew that wasn’t a proper advert,” mentioned Mr. Boyce, whom Mr. Mandel defeated. “He had a really robust repute then as a reasonable Republican and he appeared slightly extra affordable.”

Mr. Mandel had pledged to serve a full four-year time period as treasurer. However he took the primary steps towards a Senate marketing campaign simply 5 months after profitable the job.

He gained the 2012 main by courting Tea Celebration activists, however ran within the common election towards Senator Sherrod Brown, the incumbent Democrat, as a business-friendly Republican. Campaigning that 12 months for Mitt Romney, the G.O.P. presidential nominee, Mr. Mandel mentioned he believed that Ohio voters rejected “hyperpartisanship” and needed leaders who would “rise above it all to do the right thing.”

(Mr. Mandel’s appraisal of Mr. Romney, now a senator and Trump critic, has curdled. “Mitt Romney is a loser,” he mentioned final 12 months.)

Mr. Mandel’s sharpest political pivot got here after the 2016 presidential race. He had endorsed Marco Rubio, then fell in behind Mr. Trump after he captured the nomination, although he privately expressed doubts about Mr. Trump’s credibility and enterprise acumen and generally gave excuses when requested to stump for him, in accordance with buddies and former Trump marketing campaign aides.

After the October launch of the “Access Hollywood” tape, by which Mr. Trump was heard making vulgar feedback about ladies, Mr. Mandel condemned the remarks however affirmed his assist for Trump, saying he can be higher than Democrats on points like gun rights, spiritual liberty and the Supreme Court docket.

Inside weeks after Mr. Trump’s victory, Mr. Mandel was matching Mr. Trump in rhetoric and tone.

On the postelection Trump rally in Cincinnati, he mentioned Ohio’s cities would develop into so-called sanctuary cities “over my lifeless physique,” over chants of “Construct the wall!”

At present, he calls himself Mr. Trump’s “number one ally” in Ohio.

Mr. Mandel’s second Senate marketing campaign led to his withdrawal from the race in January 2018, citing his spouse’s well being. The 2 later divorced. The Cincinnati Inquirer is suing to unseal his divorce information. A marketing campaign employee now concerned in a relationship with Mr. Mandel has been cited in local news reports as having driven other employees to quit.

In Beachwood, discussions of Mr. Mandel’s politics might be as emotionally intense as a household feud. Greater than a dozen individuals approached within the prosperous suburb declined to be interviewed, some saying they didn’t need to need to avert their eyes after they noticed his kin on the native espresso store or the Beechmont Nation Membership.

Some buddies and former supporters mentioned that in newer encounters with Mr. Mandel that they had looked for indicators of the younger man they as soon as supported and even pleaded with him to stop his drift into far-right-wing politics.

The criticism, they mentioned, didn’t appear to register.

“He made the choice that ‘My path right here is to be all-in on Trump,’” mentioned Alan Melamed, a Democratic political guide who first met Mr. Mandel many years in the past. “Since then, he has been taking place the trail of ‘How far to the appropriate can I’m going, and the way outrageous can I be?’”

“Folks can change,” Mr. Melamed added. “And he did.”

Kevin Williams contributed reporting from Troy, Ohio. Susan C. Beachy contributed analysis. How Josh Mandel, Son of Suburban Ohio, Turned a Proper-Wing Warrior

Fry Electronics Team

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