Local Politics: The real winner of Ohio’s Republican senatorial primary is Trump

Even if the Trump-endorsed, Peter Thiel-funded J.D. Vance fails to beat the field, the depressing reality is that the former president still walks away victorious

Craig Calcaterra
Apr 23, 2022; Delaware, Ohio, USA; JD Vance speaks on stage with former President Donald Trump during a rally at the Delaware County Fairgrounds. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch

It's primary day in Ohio. The day when we will finally find which bomb-throwing revanchist culture warrior we’ll have as the Republican Senate nominee: fascist-friendly J.D. Vance or Josh Mandel, who has blithely compared anything with which he disagrees to Nazism

We Ohioans have truly been spoiled for choice.

Indeed, some Republicans are finding that choice to be so difficult that they simply refuse to decide and have thus invoked a Vance-Mandel hybrid known as "J.D. Mandel." Imagine how much time, money, effort and, frankly, national embarrassment this state would've been spared if someone had come up with that idea a year ago and our primary campaign had flown under the radar. Oh well, maybe next time.

Many commentators are touting today's primary as a litmus test for the endorsement power of Donald Trump who, his "J.D. Mandel" malapropism aside, endorsed Vance. I'm not buying that, though. Indeed, I think Trump's endorsement of Vance is a no-lose situation for him.

That's partially because of how critical Vance was of Trump six years ago. Due to Vance v1.0's comments, which suggested that Trump was not, in fact, the best thing to ever happen to America, the primary campaign has focused on the issue of whether or not Vance has sufficiently repudiated those past criticisms and has since sufficiently licked Trump's boots clean. Mandel and the political action committees that support him continue to play that up, in fact. 

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In light of that, if Vance loses, Trump can simply say, "See, that's the price for opposing me." Trump can use the result as a warning for how speaking ill of Him is so mortal a Republican sin that even He Himself cannot save you if you do it. Trump probably likes that idea a lot, actually, and it, along with the years-long spectacle of watching Vance debase himself and disclaim his past statements in an effort to please him, are likely why Trump endorsed Vance in the first place.

Mostly, however, Trump's endorsement is a no-lose because just about every one of the candidates, including Mandel, Former Ohio GOP Chair Jane Timken and political outsider Mike Gibbons, have hugged Trump more closely than a mama hugs her son and have continued to do so even after the endorsement. Indeed, when Trump endorsed Vance in mid-April, each of the top Republican Senate candidates were careful not to criticize the move too harshly, and none of them even came close to suggesting that they would think about breaking with the former president. Mandel's response was to promise how closely he'll work with Trump to win the general election if and when he wins the primary. The others all made noises of some form or another echoing that sentiment.

The only mild exception to that came from Cleveland Guardians part-owner Matt Dolan, who has, on occasion, been willing to break with Trump by saying shocking things such as the 2020 election wasn’t stolen and that perhaps a deadly, armed coup aimed at overthrowing a democratic election and potentially lynching the Vice President of the United States was not a good thing. Dolan doesn't differ with Trump on many, if any, actual governmental or social policies of note, however, and he has been rewarded for his apostasy on the matter of election theft and violent coups by placing fourth in the most recent nonpartisan poll of the race.

In light of all of that, the most relevant question in Republican circles these days is not how meaningful a Trump endorsement is, it's why Trump even bothers to endorse in Republican primaries at all when he has taken over the party so thoroughly that virtually no Republicans dare espouse so much as a tertiary talking point that conflicts with Trumpism in the first place.

As you likely know, Ohio's primary is an open one, meaning that voters do not have to register with a party in order to participate. Voters can simply select the ballot of the party in whose primary they wish to vote when they show up to the polling place. At the time of my writing this column, I have still not cast my vote and I am struggling with how to proceed.

While I almost always choose to vote in Democratic primaries, the likely winner of the Democratic primary does not exactly jazz me, and, of course, the GOP race is obviously where the action is. As such, part of me is considering requesting a GOP ballot so I can vote against J.D. Vance, who I consider to be a phony of the highest order. That, however, would require voting for one of the others in the race, all of whom, their stylistic differences aside, will no doubt proudly wave Trump's banner in the likely event they win the general election and take office.

Which is to say that no matter who wins the Republican primary, Trump will win the Republican primary. And why on Earth would anyone want to be complicit in that?