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The Morning Dispatch: The Ohio Senate Race Gets Trumpy
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The Morning Dispatch: The Ohio Senate Race Gets Trumpy

Plus: The Derek Chauvin trial enters its second week.

Happy Monday! If you missed Jalen Suggs’ incredible buzzer beater on Saturday, you can remedy that now

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The U.S. economy added 916,000 jobs in March according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report, reducing the unemployment rate to 6 percent. Total employment, however, remains 8.4 million jobs below where it was pre-pandemic.

  • A U.S. Capitol Police Officer was killed on Friday—and another one injured—after a man rammed into them trying to drive his car through a barricade outside the U.S. Capitol. The assailant was shot dead after lunging at the officers with a knife. Law enforcement officials said they do not believe the incident to be “terrorism-related”; the assailant was reportedly mentally unwell and a follower of Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam.

  • Senior officials from the United States and Iran will indirectly meet in Vienna this week to jump start negotiations on how to restore the 2015 nuclear deal that former President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018.

  • According to the Washington Post, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents took more than 171,000 migrants into custody in March, the highest monthly level in at least 15 years.

  • A few days after Centers for Disease Control Director Rochelle Walensky told MSNBC that a new study showed vaccinated people “do not carry” the virus, the CDC walked back her claim. “Dr. Walensky spoke broadly during this interview,” an agency spokesperson said. “It’s possible that some people who are fully vaccinated could get COVID-19. The evidence isn’t clear whether they can spread the virus to others. We are continuing to evaluate the evidence.”

  • The CDC updated its travel guidance for fully vaccinated individuals over the weekend, saying they “can travel safely within the United States” without needing to get tested or self-quarantine. 

  • Major League Baseball announced Friday it will move its All-Star Game and draft out of Atlanta due to Georgia’s new election law, two days after President Joe Biden expressed support for such a move. MLB “fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement, adding that moving the events out of Georgia was the “best way to demonstrate our values.”

  • The United States confirmed 35,554 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 2.4 percent of the 1,502,241 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 220 deaths were attributed to the virus on Sunday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 554,999. According to the CDC, 32,105 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Meanwhile, 3,365,324 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered yesterday, with 106,214,924 Americans having now received at least one dose.

A Very, Very Trumpy Senate Primary in Ohio

When Sen. Rob Portman announced in January that he wouldn’t seek reelection next year, it sent a political shockwave throughout Ohio. Few anticipated the move, but within weeks, there were already two viable Republican candidates running to take his place—and plenty more are coming.

For a piece up on the site, Declan spoke to several contenders—declared and potential—about how the race is shaping up, what sets them apart from other candidates, and what role they anticipate former President Trump will play in the contest. (Spoiler: A big one.)

Ohio is not the swing state it once was—elections analyst J. Miles Coleman told Declan it’s “stampeding rightward”—so whoever secures the Republican nomination is overwhelmingly likely to win the general. With about 60 percent of Republican voters still wedded to the former president, it makes sense that the candidates are scrambling to outdo one another to win Trump’s endorsement.

Who’s the favorite in the race?

It’s exceedingly early, but former Ohio treasurer Josh Mandel has run for Senate twice already—in 2012 and 2018—so he has an existing base of support and a pile of campaign cash. But Mandel 3.0 is … unlike its earlier iterations.

Mandel’s campaign rhetoric has only heated up since getting in the race. The presidential election? “Stolen.” Ohio GOP Chair Jane Timken? A “weathervane” and a “turncoat.” Rep. Anthony Gonzalez? “Traitor.” Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine? “Total squish establishment failure.” Vice President Kamala Harris? “Hates what we stand for as Americans.” Joe Biden? “Not all there” and “an absolute sugar daddy to illegal immigrants.” A campaign pitch captioned “HUNTING RINOs IS FUN 🦏 🎯” featured a photo of a gun-wielding Mandel from his days in the Marine Corps. His Twitter account was temporarily suspended after he asked his followers which type of “illegals” commit more crimes: “Muslim Terrorists” or “Mexican Gangbangers.”

Mandel’s recent turn is alienating some longtime allies. “I was lined up to be a supporter of his campaign,” said one person who’s known Mandel for years and considers him a friend. “I don’t know what I’m going to do now, just based on some of the crap that he’s done over the past couple of weeks. It’s really disheartening to see.”

The person, who requested anonymity due to the nature of his relationship with Mandel, still believes the former treasurer will win—but he isn’t sure he wants him to. “I am at a point now where I can’t figure out if he actually believes this crap, or if this is just part of gaining the [Trump] endorsement,” he said. “I’ve got a public reputation—I can’t raise money for this guy. Like how the hell am I going to raise money for him when he’s, out of both sides of his mouth, he can’t shut up about the Muslim thing. It’s ridiculous, and it’s totally offensive.”  

What about Jane Timken, the chair of Ohio’s Republican Party?

She jumped in the race about a week after Mandel did, and reportedly came close to getting the coveted Trump endorsement before Trump’s advisers convinced him to let the race play out a little longer. The former president is also apparently a little peeved Timken voiced support for Rep. Anthony Gonzalez after he voted to impeach back in January—so she reversed course and called for Gonzalez to resign instead.

Timken—who recently threw her weight behind an Ohio lawmaker’s proposal to rename Mosquito Lake State Park after Trump—mentioned the former president by name three times in the first 32 seconds of our interview, acknowledging the prominent role she expects him to play in the primary. “I’ve always been a proud supporter of President Trump,” she said. “He knows how hard I’ve worked to deliver Ohio for him in 2020 and all the work that I’ve put in for the last four years. And I would gladly have his endorsement and would be honored. President Trump is the leader of our party. He’s going to have an outside [sic] influence in Republican politics going forward, and I welcome his endorsement.”

“Before [Timken] became [Ohio GOP] Chairman, John Kasich had transformed the party organization into an anti-Trump mess,” her campaign website reads. “With the support of President Trump, Jane cleaned house, got rid of the Kasich decay, and completely transformed the Party into a well-oiled machine that won conservative victories and advanced an America First agenda at every level—and delivered a second victory for President Trump in our state.”

Who else is thinking about getting in?

Lots of top Republicans with an R next to their name are considering it, but Reps. Mike Turner and Bill Johnson, state Sen. Matt Dolan, and author/venture capitalist J.D. Vance are considered among the likeliest. Declan talked to all of them except Vance.

“I think we still remain a swing state, and so I think that we have to have a message that appeals to all voters,” Rep. Mike Turner said the morning after he announced he was considering a run. “And I certainly believe that being able to have solutions that respond to the needs of Ohio and the needs of our country necessitate that you have a message for all Ohioans. And not just a partisan message.”

Turner—the longtime mayor of Dayton, Ohio, who has served in the U.S House of Representatives since 2003—would bring something else to the race that Timken and Mandel can not: legislative experience. “Ohio has a history of electing people who, Day 1, can do the job,” he said. “And I think that’s what people are looking for. So we’re doing a tour through Ohio, talking to voters to find out what their issues are, what they think are important, and how that matches both my experience, my work that I’ve actually done, the accomplishments that I have in Congress.”

Rep. Bill Johnson, an Air Force veteran who has represented Ohio’s 6th Congressional District since 2011, may put forth a similar, albeit Trumpier, pitch. “I haven’t made a decision yet, but I am considering [a Senate run],” he said last week, before taking a thinly veiled shot at Timken. “There’s a big difference between being a party chairwoman where you don’t have to take a position on the issues, and having a voting record where you have to. … It’s one thing to say that you’ve been a supporter of the president, it’s something else to have the voting record that you can prove that.”

And Johnson—whose rural and industrial district includes much of Ohio’s eastern border—does have that voting record. “I don’t know if you saw the survey that came out by Axios last fall that has me ranked number one in Ohio in terms of supporting Donald Trump’s policies,” he boasted. “Let’s face it: Donald Trump’s policies were good for our state, they were good for my region.”

Derek Chauvin Trial Enters Its Second Week

Among the most notable events of 2020—along with the pandemic and presidential election— was the death of George Floyd. The sight of a helpless black man dying while being restrained by police—captured on sickening viral video by a bystander—electrified the nation, sparking a wave of protests against police brutality that pulled thousands of Americans out of their homes and into the streets. At times, these protests descended into rioting and violence, with criminal elements smashing police cars and looting businesses.

Several officers were restraining Floyd when he died, but the face of the event was Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for minutes as Floyd lost consciousness and bystanders begged him to move. Shortly after Floyd’s death, Chauvin was arrested; last week, his trial got underway. The jury faces a herculean task: Taking an explosive event at the heart of a political movement and trying to render blind, impartial justice about it.

The prosecution’s strategy has been simple: Using the viral video as their cornerstone, they have called witnesses to attempt to prove that the footage depicts Chauvin knowingly using excessive force in a manner that led to Floyd’s death.

On Tuesday, the jury heard from Darnella Frazier, the teenager who recorded the video. “I heard George Floyd saying, ‘I can’t breathe. Please get off of me. I can’t breathe,’” she said, her voice shaking. “He cried for his mom. He was in pain.”

“It’s been nights I’ve stayed up apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life,” she added. “But it’s not what I should have done, it’s what [Chauvin] should have done.”

Later in the week, prosecutors called several current and former senior members of the Minneapolis Police Department to testify about whether Chauvin pinning Floyd, knee on neck, could be justified according to police restraint protocols. Lt. Richard Zimmerman, the department’s head homicide detective and a veteran of the force for more than three decades, called the pin “totally unnecessary.” “If your knee is on someone’s neck, that could kill them,” he said. “Once the person is cuffed, the threat level goes down all the way.”

The defense, for its part, has attempted to offer an alternate view of the footage: That although Floyd died while being forcibly restrained, it was not the restraint itself that killed him. Rather, they argue, Floyd died of a heart attack brought on by preexisting medical conditions and his own drug use. They have pointed out that medical examiners found fentanyl in Floyd’s system during his autopsy; the store clerk to whom Floyd had passed a counterfeit $20 before the encounter testified that he seemed high at the time.

The defense has also attempted to show that the minutes immediately prior to the viral footage cast what followed in a different light: that Floyd began protesting that he could not breathe and that he was going to die not when police restrained him in a prone position, but before that, when they were simply attempting to get him seated in the back of a squad car—which Floyd’s agitated struggling made them unable to do.

The full trial is being live-streamed, further blurring the barrier between the criminal case taking place in court and the culture war taking place outside. A number of actions taken by the defense, including references to Floyd’s drug use and an attempt to introduce a previous arrest of Floyd’s into evidence, have been denounced by people following the case on social media, who have taken to using the hashtag #GeorgeFloydIsNotOnTrial.

Inside the courtroom, the sense of trial as proxy fight has been more subdued. At times, however, both the prosecution and the defense have shown that they recognize the case to be polarized along largely political lines. During jury selection, potential jurors were grilled over whether they had prejudged the case and whether they believed they could follow the evidence to an impartial verdict—no small ask in such a high-profile trial. The prosecution also screened potential jurors for opinions that were on their face unrelated: whether they had strong feelings about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, or whether government-mandated pandemic restrictions on bars, restaurants, gyms, and other businesses had gone too far.

Chauvin is facing charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter, giving the jury a degree of flexibility in how responsible (if at all) they find him in Floyd’s death. Witness testimony and lawyers’ argumentation is expected to last several more weeks. 

Worth Your Time

  • A bombshell report from the New York Times’ Shane Goldmacher over the weekend showed that Donald Trump’s reelection campaign relied heavily on pre-checked recurring payment boxes that duped many of the former president’s supporters into donating much more money to the effort than they intended. Certain Democratic fundraising platforms have used similar tactics, but Trump’s campaign took it to an extreme: In the last two and a half months of 2020, the Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign were forced to issue $64.3 million worth of refunds to more than 530,000 donors, while the Biden campaign and DNC issued $5.6 million to 37,000 donors. “Stacy Blatt was in hospice care last September listening to Rush Limbaugh’s dire warnings about how badly Donald J. Trump’s campaign needed money when he went online and chipped in everything he could: $500,” Goldmacher writes. “It was a big sum for a 63-year-old battling cancer and living in Kansas City on less than $1,000 per month. But that single contribution — federal records show it was his first ever — quickly multiplied. Another $500 was withdrawn the next day, then $500 the next week and every week through mid-October, without his knowledge — until Mr. Blatt’s bank account had been depleted and frozen. When his utility and rent payments bounced, he called his brother, Russell, for help. What the Blatts soon discovered was $3,000 in withdrawals by the Trump campaign in less than 30 days. They called their bank and said they thought they were victims of fraud.”

  • Facebook employees have expressed concern in recent weeks that the Chinese Communist Party is using the social media platform “as a conduit for state propaganda,” Newley Purnell writes in a Wall Street Journal report. Facebook is banned in China, but the country’s government has purportedly been buying advertisements to be displayed around the world that show joyous Uyghur Muslims “thriving” in the Xinjiang region where the U.S. government has determined genocide is occurring. “A Facebook spokesman said that the ads taken out by Beijing pertaining to Xinjiang don’t violate current policies so long as the advertisers follow Facebook’s rules when purchasing them,” Purnell notes. But employees are hoping to pressure leadership until the policies change. “It’s time our platform takes action to fight misinformation on the Uighur genocide,” one wrote in an internal message board. 

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Former congressman and White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney joined Sarah and Steve on Friday’s Dispatch Podcastfor a wide-ranging and illuminating conversation about the trajectory of the House Freedom Caucus, his relationship with former Speaker John Boehner, what his day-to-day life in the Trump White House was like, and whether he’d have voted to impeach the former president after January 6. 

  • In his Easter Sunday French Press, David discusses new Gallup polling showing church membership has fallen below 50 percent in the United States for the first time. “So many Christians fear a seemingly inevitable secular future. There’s a deep anxiety for our children and grandchildren, and real alarm that the church may face deepening isolation and perhaps even persecution,” he writes. But in the spirit of Easter, David makes the case that Christians should not give up hope. “The Christian faith is a resurrection faith. It is rooted in an eternal reality that not even death itself can prevail against the sovereignty and love of the Creator God. In rebirth, we change. We transform. Or, to put it another way, when it comes to the health and strength of the American church, Good Friday is in process. But fear not: We know that Sunday is on its way.”

  • GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz is in incredibly hot water after it leaked that the Justice Department is reportedly investigating him for allegedly having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl. Gaetz’s time in Congress is likely coming to an end, but in his Friday G-File, Jonah argues that the Floridian was clearly unfit for public office long these reports were public. “We have politicians who think their job is to be pundits and social media trolls,” he writes. “That’s literally why they run for office—not to get things done, but to become famous for complaining about what is being done. They don’t know how to legislate or govern, and they think being concerned with such things is the hallmark of suckers and losers.”

  • Speaking of Gaetz, Chris Stirewalt also weighs in. He takes apart the suggestion by some that the real problem is Gaetz’s hypocrisy. “No matter what prosecutors find, we already know Gaetz’s conduct in office was unacceptable,” he writes.

Let Us Know

With the pace of vaccines accelerating and the country opening up, do you plan to travel this spring/summer? Where will you go?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Haley Byrd Wilt (@byrdinator), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).