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GOP Senate hopeful calls for a 'shut down' of public schools

It's highly unusual for a competitive U.S. Senate candidate to call for a "shut down" of public schools. Ohio's Josh Mandel went there anyway.

In Ohio, the top Republican contenders in the state's U.S. Senate race met for a debate, though as Newsweek noted, former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel raised a few eyebrows in the afternoon with this tweet.

Ahead of the debate, Mandel tweeted that the country should "shut down government schools and put schools in churches and synagogues."

For those unfamiliar with Mandel and his political style, it's worth noting for context that much of his campaign is built on making outrageous political statements, which he peddles in the hopes that his provocative rhetoric will be denounced, which in turn empowers Mandel to effectively boast to the GOP base, "Look at all the liberals who are mad at me."

Indeed, it seems the Republican candidate, on a nearly daily basis, says or does something ridiculous for the express purpose of generating criticisms. The more people are offended by Mandel's antics, the more he believes his campaign benefits from the public indignation. (Chris Hayes' recent segment on "vice signaling" was excellent.)

But what makes Mandel's newest example so notable is the risk he's taking: Americans generally like the existence of public schools. For a U.S. Senate candidate to call for the closure of "government schools" altogether is the sort of thing swing voters might notice — and have a problem with.

This comes up infrequently precisely because Republicans generally don't see an upside to such radicalism. A decade ago, then-presidential hopeful Rick Santorum made similar noises about public education. "Just call them what they are," Santorum said in 2011. "Public schools? That's a nice way of putting it. These are government-run schools."

Soon after, CBS News' Bob Schieffer asked Santorum, "Are you saying that we shouldn't have public schools, now? I mean, I thought public schools were the foundation of American democracy." The Pennsylvania Republican didn't back down, reemphasizing his belief that education should be privatized.

Santorum's career didn't exactly blossom, and even as GOP politics moved even further to the right, Republicans were cautious about calling for the demise of public education.

That said, there have been occasional hints in this direction. As recently as July, Donald Trump issued a statement expressing concern that domestic infrastructure investments could lead to "more government run schools" — as if the existence of additional public schools would be a bad thing.

Now, Mandel is going further, explicitly calling for a "shut down" of public schools.

As we've discussed, Republican pollsters have frequently argued that it's a mistake for party officials to call for shutting down the federal Department of Education because it gives the appearance of hostility towards public education. In Ohio, Mandel apparently believes he can get ahead by removing all doubt.