Josh Mandelbaum (IA): ‘Trump Is an Existential Threat’
Josh Mandelbaum (40), a Democrat from Des Moines, IA, comes from a long line of Iowans and attends Temple B’nai Jeshurun, the congregation his great-great-grandfather helped found in 1873. He works for the nonprofit Environmental Law Policy Center on clean energy and clean water issues. He has volunteered for political campaigns for more than 20 years and currently serves on the greater Des Moines Jewish Federation Board.
What traits are you looking for in a candidate?
I want someone who can grapple with a lot of information, ask questions, think critically and communicate effectively. They can be informed by an ideology and a vision, but I want a certain amount of pragmatism. I want to understand how they’re going to solve problems and get things done. They need to be in politics to serve and make the world a better place. The opposite is true of President Trump. Not only is he entirely transactional, but the focus tends to be on how he can personally benefit.
Does religion affect your political views?
In a very broad, value-based sense, yes. The concept of tikkun olam, repairing the world, certainly informs the way I interact in politics.
Are there any make-or-break issues for you when it comes to supporting a candidate?
A president can only do a handful of big things because it’s hard to get legislation through Congress. I think climate change is of such great magnitude that we need to act on it immediately. I want to know that whoever I’m caucusing for gets the seriousness of climate change and has it as their top two or three issues. All the Democratic candidates generally say the right things on climate, but there’s a real question about whether it would be a top priority.
Is Israel an important issue for you?
It’s certainly something that I track, monitor and care about. It’s important religiously, but what has happened to the greater Jewish community over the years is also important—having a state, and having a refuge.
Who will you be supporting in the Iowa caucuses?
I have not figured out yet who I’m caucusing for. I don’t like dealing in the hypothetical. I am impressed by the caliber of the field, especially having had a chance to see a number of these folks up close. I am impressed by Elizabeth Warren and I like Cory Booker. We met Booker and my son, who is five, loves him. But whoever the Democrats nominate, even if it’s not my first or second or third choice, I’m going to be supporting that person in the general election.
Are there disagreements about politics in your family?
My dad and brothers are more conservative than I am. I don’t even know how my dad voted in 2016. I’ve got a brother who is a big, big Trump supporter. He’s actually frustrated with me over some of the gun violence prevention stuff that I’ve advocated for on a local level. So politics does create some tension.
Why is the 2020 election so important to you?
I think Trump is an existential threat to the way our country works. I know it’s a cliché to say that this is the most important election cycle of our lifetime, but it does feel that way to me. In the past, I never worried about our democratic norms and whether our institutions would survive. But now I feel there’s a risk that our institutions are eroding, and that makes this election more important than in the past.