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Did Trump have a Biden-style “senior moment” here? Or was he just fantasizing about the ultimate ass-kissing suck-up candidate, a MAGA Brundlefly hybrid of J.D. Vance and Josh Mandel?

It’s too bad that Mandel’s middle name doesn’t begin with a “D.” (It’s “Aaron.”) Then he could have tweeted, “Honored to have your endorsement, Mr. President!”

Trump has, of course, endorsed Vance in tomorrow’s hotly anticipated Ohio Senate primary but Vance is an awkward fit inasmuch as he was an outspoken Never Trumper in 2016. And … even after 2016, as Tim Miller recently reminded us. As late as the summer of 2018, Vance was schmoozing with Mitt Romney and his establishment allies at Romney’s private “E2 summit” in Utah.

At the time of the summit, Romney, who had called Trump a “fraud” and a “con,” was a candidate for U.S. Senate. Three weeks after E2 he was facing a primary election with opponents who were more in line with the MAGA wing of the party.

Among the other anti-Trump globalists featured at the 2018 confab were Paul Ryan, Larry Hogan, David Brooks, Meg Whitman, Mike Bloomberg, and Saudi Vice Minister of Defense Khalid bin Salman.

And there was J.D. nibbling on a charcuterie plate with the crisp mountain breeze in his face, hobnobbing with Romney and his friends in the moneyed elite, three weeks before the leader of the RINO Trump resistance’s election to the U.S. Senate.

One of the theories kicking around on social media last night after Trump’s “J.D. Mandel” gaffe was that it wasn’t a mistake but rather a deliberate dig at Vance by Trump, who hasn’t forgotten Vance’s prior criticism. I doubt that — having staked his kingmaker credibility on Vance in a state he won by eight points in 2020, Trump would be a fool to undermine him 48 hours before the election.

Especially since a Vance victory is no sure thing. New polling from Ohio:

The one scenario no one expected at the start of this primary was a Matt Dolan upset. Timken seemed viable early on given reports that Trump came thisclose to endorsing her last year but she’s never gained traction. Gibbons contended for the lead at one point but has since fallen back. Mandel has been near the top of every poll but seems to have a ceiling of 25 percent or so, and much of his share is probably due to name recognition. Vance has risen since Trump’s endorsement but not as much as you might expect: The last Trafalgar poll before Trump’s endorsement had him at 23 percent, meaning that he’s gained only three points or so since.

Dolan was supposed to be a nonfactor since he’s the one candidate in the field who’s shown the slightest bit of backbone in resisting Trump. He refuses to say that the 2020 election was stolen (but has said he’d vote for Trump in 2024), which should be a political death sentence in a GOP primary in a state as Trumpy as Ohio. And it would be — if Dolan were in a one-on-one race with any of the other candidates. As it is, with “J.D. Mandel” splitting the MAGA vote between themselves, the surging Dolan has a chance to sneak up the middle and win with something like 28 percent of the vote.

All of which has conspired to create a thorny political dilemma for Ohio Democrats. Ohio operates an “open primary” system, which means you don’t need to be registered with a party to vote in its primary. Any Democrat can walk into their polling price tomorrow and request a Republican ballot. (And vice versa, of course.) The Democratic Senate primary isn’t competitive this year either, with Rep. Tim Ryan expected to win easily. Question, then: If you’re a Democrat and you opt to vote in the GOP primary, how do you vote?

Do you vote for the Republican who you think would make the best, i.e. most centrist, senator? Or do you vote for the Republican whom Ryan would have the best shot at beating this fall?

Realistically, for Ryan to succeed, he will have to run an error-free race. He will also need to draw a deeply flawed opponent. That seems distinctly possible. The Republican candidates in Ohio are producing the wildest primary in the country, deploying tens of millions of dollars against one another in a competition that has featured bitter insults, accusations of sexism, and a near-physical altercation between two candidates—Josh Mandel and Mike Gibbons—at a public forum in March. Trump’s surprise endorsement of the Hillbilly Elegy author J. D. Vance has created even more uncertainty and infighting in the race as the primary approaches.

Some Democrats have suggested that Mandel, the 44-year-old former state treasurer who lost a 2012 Senate challenge to Brown, would be the best draw for Ryan, who could sharply contrast his willingness to challenge his own party on issues like trade with Mandel’s absolutism, particularly on cultural issues like teaching about race and sexual identity in schools. Mandel’s mask burning and call to eliminate public schools are the types of stunts that rev up partisan ideologues but risk alienating casual voters.

Mandel is probably the easiest draw for Ryan. Vance is sinister but smarter, and his big primary liability — his Never Trump record — might actually be something of an asset with swing voters in the general election. (“Maybe this guy isn’t as fascist as he sounds.“) If you’re a Dem who wants to give your party’s nominee a puncher’s chance in November, you cross over and vote Mandel tomorrow.

The flaw in that logic, however, is that Mandel could win. In fact, in a state as red as Ohio in a national climate as pro-GOP as this one, he’d be a solid favorite. And if he does win, the state would be saddled with a pandering clod who’ll embrace any insanity the populist base endorses in the name of retaining his office. Given the advantage of incumbency, Mandel could hold the seat for 25 years.

The obvious choice for Democratic voters who want to hedge against the risk of an authoritarian representing their state is to cross over and back Dolan. It would spite Trump too, as he naturally holds a grudge against Dolan for not supporting his election conspiracies. It could even work out for Dems and Ryan in November. Although Dolan is the most generic Republican in the field and therefore should be an easy winner this fall, the fact that MAGA types fault him for not agreeing that the election was rigged means some populists could stay home in the general election — or even cross over for Ryan, who’s made countering China’s ascendance a core part of his campaign.

Seems like a no-brainer for Ohio’s left, then. Vote Dolan tomorrow. Best-case scenario: You end up with Sen. Tim Ryan. Worst-case scenario: You end up with a Republican senator who, unlike “J.D. Mandel,” won’t be a rubber stamp for Trump’s worst impulses in the Senate.

Exit question: Why hasn’t Jane Timken swallowed her pride by dropping out and endorsing Dolan? She’s not going to win. The best thing she could do for her party and her country now is to direct her voters to the one remaining candidate with a real shot at beating Vance and Mandel. If nothing else, it’d be sweet revenge for her on Trump for having withheld his endorsement from her early.