"But he's Jewish": Somehow the Ohio Senate primary gets worse

I can’t find an embeddable clip but Mediaite has the video of GOP candidate Mark Pukita attacking fellow Republican Josh Mandel last night because Mandel is Jewish and yet … touts the Bible in some of his ads.


Isn’t the Old Testament still part of the Bible? It’s been awhile for me.

I was shocked when I read about this despite the fact that everyone’s expectations for integrity in the Ohio race are sub-zero by now. The GOP Senate primary there may be the ugliest midterm contest in the country, a race to the bottom between Mandel, J.D. Vance, and a number of other pretend populists to see who can be the most embarrassingly lowbrow in pandering to pro-Trump nationalist voters. One element that’s been absent, though, is anti-semitism.

Until last night. Pukita is a long longshot, eager to make a splash. He found a way.

A moderator at the debate, held by the Ohio Press Network at North Columbus Baptist Church, asked for Pukita to respond to claims that he is “antisemitic and intentionally divisive and inflammatory.”

“In terms of antisemitism, all I did in an ad was pointed out that Josh is going around saying he’s got the Bible in one hand and the constitution in the other. But he’s Jewish,” Pukita said. “Everybody should know that though, right?”

Pukita was referring to a radio ad created by his campaign that criticized Mandel for courting evangelical Christians and frequently visiting churches on the campaign trail.

Listen to the ad, the third of three in this clip. Actual quote: “Are we seriously supposed to believe the most Christian-values Senate candidate is Jewish?”

Mandel has touted Judeo-Christian values as the bedrock of American culture, as virtually every conservative politician at every level across the country routinely does. Yet Pukita singles him out for it on ground that “everybody should know” Mandel isn’t a Christian. Huh.


Watch the Mediaite clip and you’ll find him defending his ad as a critique not of Mandel’s faith but of his authenticity. He’s a Jew — who endorses Christianity! That’s clever insofar as authenticity is a cardinal populist virtue. And in fairness, Mandel is an egregious phony — about politics, changing his ideological spots as necessary over the past decade to suit whatever the latest fad is among Republican voters. But there’s nothing to suggest he doesn’t take his faith seriously. And nothing to suggest he wouldn’t advocate for Judeo-Christian values as a senator.

The fact that Pukita keeps harping on it, first in an ad and then again last night, means he’s willing to take the populist tribal impulse to an unusually dark place. Mandel may say the right things but he’s not “one of us,” wink wink.

When Politico asked his campaign about attacking a Jewish candidate for being insufficiently committed to Christianity, they got this not very encouraging response back:

“Mark Pukita is absolutely, unequivocally, undeniably a complete supporter of religious tolerance and of Israel,” Robert Gray, a campaign spokesperson, wrote in a statement. “He is not a supporter of phonies and panderers.”

It’s not unusual for a U.S. politician to invoke Israel when asked an uncomfortable question about American Jews. But Pukita is dodging. What he’s not saying here is whether he believes American Jews can authentically defend Judeo-Christian values as public servants without being “phonies.”


But maybe that’s the niche he wants, by strategic design. The primary has become a competition to see who can out-populist the rest of the field and Pukita showed last night that he means business, and not just by other-izing Mandel. He also called him out at the debate for being out of step with the GOP base in another important way:

The point to grasp here is that Mandel himself is currently seen as the most ardent (phony) populist in the field. J.D. Vance has been trying to catch up but Mandel keeps flogging him for having criticized Trump repeatedly in 2016. Pukita seems to have calculated that the only way to climb into the top tier is to try to get to Mandel’s right somehow and do to him what he’s doing to Vance. The messaging result: “He’s a Jew. And a vaccinated Jew at that!”

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