Mandel & Brown Debate in Cleveland Monday
The bell tolls at 12:30 p.m. this coming Monday to mark the start of the City Club of Cleveland’s U.S. Senate debate between Senator Sherrod Brown and his Republican challenger, Josh “The Empty Suit” Mandel. The event is sold out, but you can listen online.
Will that bell also be sounding the death knell of Mandel’s Senate aspirations? Let’s hope so. And this debate presents a huge dilemma for Mandel.
City Club debates are tightly formatted and closely moderated, with questions on specific issues posed to the candidates. Mandel’s standard campaign mode for two years has been to avoid taking positions when he can and to almost never offer specifics about his ideas or proposals, if indeed he has any.
My belief is that he’s so beholden to the special interests that finance him that he’s unable to reveal how much he’s merely an agent for their demands. You’d think he could just memorize a list of right-wing talking points, but given how unappealing such positions are to most Americans, if you’re not able to dance around them, you’re in trouble. And Mandel’s not a slick liar like Mitt Romney, able to espouse ten positions on any issue within a week and change his views depending on his audience. He’s not a Paul Ryan who can state unpopular positions in a misleading way to imply they’re not really as unpalatable as they sound. Mandel just isn’t that smart or glib or articulate.
If Mandel attempts to provide the vague, contentless answers he’s been using, I expect he’ll be dismantled in the question-and-answer period. If he tries to avoid being pinned down, he’ll provide a contrast to Sherrod Brown, who isn’t afraid to clearly state where he stands on any issue. That’s going to make Mandel look shifty.
That Mandel isn’t bright enough to figure out how to finesse this dilemma was demonstrated by two recent exchanges, one with the editorial board of the Youngstown Vindicator, the other with Canton radio talk show host Ron Ponder.
During the Vindicator interview, Mandel actually said anyone who supported the auto bailout — which saved Ohio from economic disaster — should be “ashamed (!!!),” but then refused to give a yes or no answer on whether he would have voted for it.
During the editorial board meeting, Vindicator staffers kept pressing Mandel on the bailout issue while he focused on Delphi, leading to one exchange in which one member of the group accused Mandel of avoiding the question.
"Stop putting words in my mouth," Mandel said.
"Someone's got to put words in your mouth, all you do is talk in circles," one of the Vindicator staffers said.
In the interview with Ponder, Mandel demonstrated his political ineptitude when he got testy with Ponder for questioning him about the young and under-qualified cronies he hired in his state treasurer’s office. Instead of coming up with a smooth deflection, Mandel accused the host of being part of Sherrod Brown’s campaign.
Ponder also asked several times whether Mandel’s former campaign manager Michael Lord was getting $100,000 from his office. “Is it yes or no?” Ponder asked twice, before once again saying, “Josh, just answer the question.”
The radio host then ended the interview, saying, “OK, thanks for the conversation, Josh. I appreciate the time, next time you want to come on and you want to answer some questions, we’ll ask you some questions, but don’t come on and just use this program as a foil to get out your campaign material. All we want to do is ask you some questions and get some answers, OK?”
Dream on, Mr. Ponder. Mandel long ago decided he doesn’t need to answer questions from the media in the state he wants to represent in the Senate, nor does he owe the voters of that state any information about what he’s done, what he believes, or what he would stand for if elected. And he’s too clumsy, touchy, and inarticulate to package that attitude in any remotely credible way. It will be a miracle if he doesn’t do himself more damage at the City Club of Cleveland debate.