Local Politics: Josh Mandel joins Trump in questioning election integrity

Meanwhile, the person tasked with defending the electoral process in Ohio is content to let others further erode our democracy

Craig Calcaterra
Josh Mandel speaks to a small group of approximately 15 attendees of his Faith and Freedom Rally Saturday, September 18 at the Faith Harvest Fellowship church in Orrville, Ohio.

Former president Donald Trump has spent nearly 11 straight months lying about his 7 million vote loss in the 2020 election. Before that he spent four years lying about winning the popular vote over Hillary Clinton in 2016. Those lies, though often not specifically endorsed by Trump's fellow Republicans, have helped form the foundation of the modern Republican Party's assault on democracy. They have provided the political cover for Republicans to restrict voting access via scores of laws across the country — including in Ohio — which have created new hurdles to voting that disproportionately affect the poor and minorities.

One man who has explicitly embraced Trump's lies about election fraud is U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel, who recently tweeted that he believes Trump won Ohio by an even greater margin that the actual results showed but that the numbers were altered by "Democrat cheating." Because of that, Mandel argues, Ohio should mount its own "audit" of Ohio election results, not unlike the bogus partisan effort recently undertaken in Arizona.

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Taking direct issue with Mandel's constant stream of transparent baloney is a sucker's game, of course. He's a berserker of misinformation. He's absolutely inexhaustible when it comes to alternate reality creation. He's three lies ahead of you by the time you've dealt with the first one, and even if you're lucky enough to make headway in your pushback he'll just whip out a fake Southern accent to confuse you while he makes his rhetorical getaway. Besides, in our current post-truth society, fewer voters than ever actually care about things like facts, so why bother? "He's Josh Mandel," you simply say to yourself. "Trying to stop him from embarrassing both himself and the State of Ohio is like trying to stop the mighty Cuyahoga from flowing into the majestic Lake Erie."

There is someone, however, whose very job it is to make sure that there are no questions about the integrity of Ohio's elections. His name is Frank LaRose and he's Ohio's 51st Secretary of State. If there is any question about the veracity of our election results, it's up to LaRose to remove that doubt. Except LaRose won't do it. At least not directly.

He will, as he did once again last week when asked about Mandel's accusations, repeat his canned line about how the 2020 election was "the most successful and secure election on record." But he won't address direct falsehoods like those offered by Trump and Mandel. When given a chance to respond to Mandel's tweet by Marty Schladen of Ohio Capitol Journal, his spokesman said LaRose didn’t want to get dragged into it. Given that LaRose is Ohio's top elections official, that's sort of like the back judge at a Buckeyes game saying he'd rather not get dragged into the matter of pass interference.

LaRose has made no specific mention of Trump's relentless claims of election fraud or the claims now offered by Mandel. He could, however, forcefully and specifically respond to such irresponsible claims. In doing so he could head off what will almost certainly be claims of fraud by Mandel or J.D. Vance or whoever loses next year's Senate primary. Or any Republican who loses any election in Ohio, should that ever again come to pass. Instead, he has chosen to remain coy about it, allowing the Trumps and Mandels of the world to rile up their voters in ways that serve to undermine faith in democracy.

LaRose's failure to address any of this is understandable if one assumes that he plans on having any future in the Republican Party.

Today's GOP is a party that allows for a great deal of latitude when it comes to bigotry, white nationalism, violent insurrection, corruption, and conspiracy theories of all stripes. It does not, however, have room for anyone who clearly and unambiguously tells the truth about the 2020 election, who says that Trump lost or, even in places where he won, like Ohio, that he did not win by the margin he believes he achieved or that Democrats did not perpetrate outrageous fraud in the process. To push back against that is to become persona non-grata in Republican circles.

Just ask soon-to-be-former Congressman Anthony Gonzalez, whose basic honesty on that score caused Trump to lash out at him, the party to join in the lashing, his district almost certainly to be eliminated in the next congressional map, and Gonzalez to forgo reelection. That's a fate LaRose no doubt wishes to avoid, so he unsurprisingly refuses to weigh in on the matter of integrity of elections in Ohio, which, in turn, serves to further erode the integrity of elections in Ohio. Despite the fact that LaRose is constitutionally tasked with, you guessed it, ensuring the integrity of elections in Ohio.

And now that Mandel and others see that there is no pushback in store for anyone who claims that Ohio's elections are rigged, prepare yourself for a year's worth of claims to that effect and all of the negative consequences that flow from them.