Starting at the very dawn of the Biden presidency, a slate of increasingly MAGA-fied Republican candidates have each competed for Donald Trump’s coveted endorsement in the critical, Hunger Games-esque U.S. Senate primary in Ohio. But for the past year, the ex-president has steadfastly refused to pick a favorite and intervene in the intra-party battle, even though the candidates—including the once-clear frontrunner Josh Mandel—have campaigned as if they were overtly simpering parodies of Trumpism.
There are a few key reasons why the twice-impeached former president hasn’t yet endorsed Mandel or anybody else in that race. One reason for the hold-up is that Trump—who has long been addicted to dishing tabloid-style gossip and dirt—has for months told people close to him that he thinks Mandel is a charisma-free weirdo and dork, according to three sources who’ve spoken to Trump about Mandel and the Ohio contest since last year.
In recent months, these sources said, the onetime leader of the free world has even spent an inordinate amount of time gossiping with a large array of advisers and close associates about unconfirmed details of Mandel’s sex life. Trump has privately regurgitated, often in disgust, a wide range of unverified, often completely unvetted, and lurid rumors about the MAGA candidate.
The salacious gossip has frequently found its way to Mar-a-Lago, and wherever else Trump and his political orbit roam, because Republicans opposed to Mandel have actively pushed rumors to Trump, Ohio political circles, and reporters at major news outlets, the sources independently said.
“The [former] president has used the term ‘fucking weird’ to describe Josh Mandel more than once, when I have spoken to him about” Mandel, one of the people said. “He has talked about [Mandel] and sex in the same sentence more times than I would have liked to hear.”
The other two sources, both of whom requested anonymity in order to talk about private discussions, corroborated accounts of the ex-president’s newly acquired interest in the alleged details of Mandel’s sex life or personal ongoings. Those sources relayed that Trump had also told them some combination of the following:
Mandel doesn’t have the right “visuals” or “look,” and could come off poorly on TV. Having met with and talked to Mandel, Trump felt there was just something about Mandel and his personality that rubbed him the wrong way. Also, the former president and current leader of the Republican Party has sensed a conspicuous dearth of “charisma” coming from this particular GOP Senate hopeful.
“In my experience, Donald Trump is a hungry gossip for all things, including very personal details of people’s lives,” Stephanie Grisham, a former top aide to both Donald and Melania Trump who’s publicly fallen out with the MAGA royalty, said Friday. “When I worked for him in the White House, he had no problem bringing up or asking about supposed details of the personal lives of prominent politicians or other famous people, even his own staff. It is ironic that someone like Donald Trump, who has been accused of all kinds of sexual misconduct, would care to gossip so much about these matters, but… that’s just who he is.”
On Friday, the Mandel campaign declined to comment, and a Trump spokesman did not provide comment for this story, either.
The race to replace retiring Sen. Rob Portman is crowded, attracting a host of Republican candidates who claim to be the most loyal to Trump, including several self-funding candidates. Five contenders have already spent roughly $30 million of their own money on their campaigns, according to The Columbus Dispatch, a fact that is already making the contest one of the most expensive of the 2022 cycle. One of them, Bernie Moreno—who had already loaned his campaign millions—dropped out on Thursday after conferring with Trump.
Like Mandel, most of the well-known candidates have spent the past several months contorting themselves into the former president’s image, in the hopes of attracting support of the president’s large following in the Buckeye State. Several candidates prominently feature photos with Trump or of him on their campaign websites.
In March of last year, Politico reported on the “secret sit-down” in Florida that Trump convened with four of the Trump-adulating Ohio candidates—including Mandel. “What ensued was a 15-minute backroom backbiting session reminiscent of Trump’s reality TV show [The Apprentice],” the report said.
The meeting underscored what right-wing candidates in various 2022 races across the country are willing to do to directly appeal to the famously ego-driven Trump—and how much they would obsequiously audition for him.
While Trump has kept his powder dry, his loyalists have begun picking sides.
QAnon aficionado and Capitol rioter enthusiast Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) recently endorsed businessman and author J.D. Vance, as has right-wing billionaire Peter Thiel. Thiel has also poured at least $10 million into a super PAC supporting Vance.
Former Ohio GOP chairwoman Jane Timken has received the support of Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) as well as South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, according to her campaign website.
Mandel, meanwhile, has received the support of conservative talk show host Mark Levin, and investment banker Mike Gibbons has been endorsed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), according to press releases.
There has been scant public polling in the contest so far. One, conducted by the Trafalgar Group in December, had Mandel leading the pack of contenders with 21 percent, with Vance, his nearest competitor, trailing 6 points behind.
But with four months to go, the race is far from settled—giving Trump plenty of time to ingest and spread more gossip before he makes his final call.