When an Ohio Senate debate devolved into a MAGA shouting match late last week—replete with apparent threats of violence and one candidate accusing the other of being a “pussy”— the Audience of One each of the top-tier candidates has been thirstily trying to emulate for months was not amused.
One source described former President Donald Trump as “baffled” by the exchange. Two others familiar with his reaction to the near-brawl said Trump privately bashed the 2022 Ohio GOP frontrunners Josh Mandel and Mike Gibbons for—in Trump’s characterization—“acting like idiots,” following their public confrontation.
Trump, of course, wasn’t alone in that critique.
Tempers flared Friday night after Gibbons told Mandel he didn’t know “squat” about working in the private sector. Mandel, who served as a Marine, leapt to his feet and confronted Gibbons for, what Mandel perceived as, minimizing his military service.
The exchange went downhill from there.
The scene of two grown men on the debate stage yelling in the other’s face attracted the cringes and bad reviews of an array of Trumpworld and conservative luminaries, including Steve Bannon, a former top Trump adviser who is no stranger to fits of trash-talk. Three longtime GOP operatives working on this Ohio race each independently described the debate footage as a “shitshow,” when asked by The Daily Beast.
But the twice-impeached ex-president, aware of the constant Trump-cosplay in the race, remarked that he “never” would have done what Mandel did that day.
— Heartland Signal (@HeartlandSignal) March 18, 2022
Though it may be true that the former president wouldn’t have done exactly that, he certainly has engaged in similar conduct, much to the pleasure of his voters and political devotees. During the 2016 GOP presidential primary, Trump publicly echoed a crowd member’s jeer that Sen. Ted Cruz was “a pussy.” Trump has also repeatedly claimed, on a variety of occasions both during and following his presidency, that he would be able to beat Joe Biden in a fistfight or a boxing match.
Still, while he winced at Mandel and Gibbons’ public spat, Trump has absolutely loved the four-way fight for his favor, relishing the lengths to which Mandel, Gibbons, J.D. Vance, and Jane Timken have gone to impress him, making progressively frantic, ham-handed moves to prove to voters that they’re each the most egregiously Trump-y.
In fact, the Ohio contest has become such a source of joy for Trump, he holds meetings on the race virtually every week.
And although each of them has made the trip to Mar-a-Lago to beg for his seal of approval,
Trump has told those close to him that he doesn’t see any advantage for himself in endorsing at this stage in the game. Trump has said behind closed doors, that he may not even endorse anybody in this primary—though he is still greatly “enjoying how everyone is trying to suck his dick” in the Buckeye State race, a source who has repeatedly talked to Trump about this primary told The Daily Beast.
The backlash to the attempted tough-talk was brisk and widespread enough that the race’s leading conservative candidates seemed to have gotten the memo.
By Monday evening, the U.S. Senate hopefuls had reunited on-stage, at yet another primary debate. This time, there were no apparent physical threats or nose-to-nose ultimatums. There were no viral moments generated concerning “pussies” or any other high-school-grade epithets.
But the altercation did not go unmentioned.
When the moderator asked why he became so angry at Gibbons on Friday, Mandel replied it was because he was “a fighter.”
“I’m a Marine,” Mandel said. “And I will never back down from a fight.”
When it was Gibbons’ turn to explain himself, he thanked Mandel for his service but said, "My point was Josh has never been in the private sector. The military is not the private sector.”
But this being the Ohio Republican Senate primary, one opponent couldn’t resist taking one more jab at the two chasened candidates.
"I would like to address the embarrassment of Friday evening,” Timken began her answer to a question about lowering gas prices. “Josh Mandel and Mike Gibbons acted like children and if I had been their mother, I’d have grounded them.”
—with additional reporting by Jackie Kucinich