J.D. Vance Converted to Trumpism. Will Ohio Republicans Buy It?
Before being a famous supporter of Donald J. Trump, JD Vance was one of his most famous critics.
“Hillbilly Elegy,” Mr. Vance’s searing 2016 memoir of growing up poverty in Ohio and Kentucky, offered bemused and alarmed Democrats, and not a few Republicans, an explanation for Mr. Trump to an angry core of working-class white Americans. .
Conservative author, venture capitalist, and Yale Law School graduate, Mr. Vance has presented himself as a storyteller of hard truths, writing personally about the toll of drugs and violence, a bias against education and a dependence on social assistance. Rather than blame strangers, he berated his community. “There is a lack of agency here – a feeling that you have little control over your life and a willingness to blame everyone but yourself,” he wrote.
In interviews, he has called Mr. Trump a “cultural heroine” and a demagogue leading “the white working class into a very dark place.”
Today, as Mr. Vance pursues the Republican nomination for an open Senate seat in Ohio, he made a whiplash-inducing conversion to Trumpism, in which he no longer insists that the issues of the white working class are self-inflicted. Picking up the grievances of the former president, he denounces “the elites and the ruling class” for “stealing from us blindly”, as he said in his announcement speech last month.
Now champion of the right-wing messages that animate the Make America Great Again base, Mr. Vance has annoying tweets deleted, gave up his old views on immigration and trade, and went from a regular guest on CNN to a regular on “Tucker Carlson,” echoing the Fox News host’s racist slurs at immigrants as ” dirty “.
When working-class Americans “dare to complain about the southern border,” Mr. Vance said on Mr. Carlson’s show last month, “or jobs shipped overseas, what do you call them? -we ? We call them racists, we call them fanatics, xenophobes or idiots.
“I love it,” replied Mr. Carlson.
Whether Ohio Republicans are doing it too is the big question for Mr Vance – who will crucially benefit from a $ 10 million super PAC funded by tech billionaire Peter Thiel, a Trump supporter. who once employed Mr. Vance.
His GOP rivals in the state had a field day. Josh Mandel, a former treasurer from Ohio who is the top favorite in the field of the five nominees, called Mr. Vance a “RINO just like Romney and Liz Cheney,” referring to the senator from Utah and the congressman from Wyoming who voted to impeach Mr. Trump for inciting the Capitol riot.
The Liberals and some Tories also fired Mr. Vance for cynical opportunism. Never Trump curator Tom Nichols wrote about “JD Vance’s moral collapse” in The Atlantic.
Mr. Vance’s endorsement of some of the more extreme views of Trump supporters shows how the former president, despite losing the White House and Congress for his party, retains the support of fanatically loyal voters, who do echo his resentment and misinformation and force most Republican candidates to bend one knee.
Still, Mr. Vance’s about-faces on politics and Mr. Trump’s demagogic style might not turn out to be disqualifying with the Ohio primaries when they vote next spring, strategists say. While Mr. Vance’s U-turn may seem too convenient at a time when voters quickly sniff out inauthenticity, it’s also true that his political arc resembles that of many Republicans who reluctantly voted for Mr. Trump in 2016, but after four years cemented their support. (Mr Vance said he voted third in 2016.)
“Will he be able to get over his past comments about Trump and align that with the GOP base?” Maybe, ”said Michael Hartley, an Ohio Republican strategist who doesn’t work for any of the Senate candidates. He added that Mr. Vance had the lived experience of approaching policies that uplift working class people “in a way that others cannot.”
Mr Vance, 37, who lives with his wife and two young sons in Cincinnati, has carefully sowed the ground for his candidacy, appearing frequently on podcasts and news shows with far-right, grassroots influencers Trump, including Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka.
In interviews, speeches and on social media, he has become a warrior of culture. He threatened to make Big Tech “pay” for putting Tories “in jail on Facebook,” and he mocked General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, after the four-star general said he was looking to understand the “white rage” following the assault on Capitol Hill.
For Mr. Vance, it is a “big lie” that January 6 was “this great insurrection,” he told Mr. Bannon.
In “Hillbilly Elegy,” Mr. Vance credited members of the elite with fewer divorces, longer lives, and more church attendance, adding with regret, “These people are beating us at our damn game.” But that was not his message at a recent Conservative rally where he blamed the collapse of the American family on the “childless left.”
Fox’s top-rated host Mr Carlson nearly endorsed Mr Vance when the nominee appeared last month. Mr. Vance also has the support of Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, a rising Conservative House leader. And Charlie Kirk, the founder of the right-wing student group Turning Point USA, which has ties to the Trump family, endorsed the author of “Hillbilly Elegy.”
“He has always been able to diagnose Trump’s grassroots anxieties economically almost better than anyone,” Kirk said in an interview. Although Mr. Vance once scoffed at Mr. Trump’s position that a southwest border wall would bring back “all those steel mill jobs,” he now supports the “America First” agenda that the reduction Legal immigration will increase the wages of blue-collar workers, a link that many economists dispute. “Why let in so many desperate newcomers when many of our larger cities look like this? »Mr. Vance recently said on Twitter in a photo of a homeless settlement in Washington.
Mr Trump has met with the top five declared Republican candidates for the Ohio Senate – who are vying for the seat of incumbent Senator Rob Portman – but did not show a preference. He’s not likely to do so anytime soon, according to a person briefed on his thinking. Among the Democrats, Rep. Tim Ryan has the field almost to himself. Ohio, once a battleground state, turned to the right in the Trump era.
Mr. Vance declined to be interviewed for this article. But an examination of his embrace of Trumpism through the extensive account of his writings and remarks, as well as interviews with people close to him, shows that it turned out the way one Hemingway character described from famous way how he went bankrupt: “Little by little, then suddenly. “
The year 2018 seems to have been a turning point. In January, Mr Vance considered running for the Senate in Ohio, but ultimately decided not to run, citing family issues, after news reports highlighted his previous hostile criticism of the of Mr. Trump.
Later that year, furious opposition from the left to Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court marked a milestone in Mr. Vance’s political turn. Mr. Vance’s wife Usha, whom he met in law school, had been an intern for Judge Kavanaugh. “Trump’s popularity in the Vance family increased dramatically during Kavanaugh’s fight,” Mr. Vance told a conservative group in 2019.
Although Mr Vance has said he agrees with Mr Trump’s policies on China and immigration, the most important factor in his conversion, he told Mr Gorka in March , was an “intestinal” identification with Mr. Trump’s rhetorical war against America’s “elites”.
“I was like, ‘Dude, you know, when Trump says the elites are fundamentally corrupt they don’t care which country made them who they are, he was actually telling the truth,’” Mr. Vance.
(His embrace of Trump-style populism didn’t stop him from flying to the Hamptons last month for a fundraiser with Republican captains of industry, as Politico reports.)
Finally, the influence of Mr. Thiel, one of the founders of PayPal, whom Mr. Vance called a “mentor to me,” seems to have been decisive in Mr. Vance’s endorsement of Trumpism.
An outspoken conservative and somewhat rare in Silicon Valley, Mr. Thiel addressed the 2016 Republican convention and advised the Trump transition team. He is a fierce critic of China and world trade and a proponent of restrictive immigration policies, and Mr. Vance has evolved into all of these positions. Mr Thiel, who did not respond to an interview request, is also paying a super PAC for another protégé, Blake Masters, in a Senate race in Arizona.
In March, Mr. Thiel arranged for a meeting between Mr. Vance and Mr. Trump in Mar-a-Lago, the former president’s Florida resort. Mr. Vance made amends for his earlier criticisms and asked Mr. Trump to keep an open mind, according to people briefed at the meeting. If Mr. Trump was going to attack Mr. Vance – as he has other Republican 2022 candidates in the country he perceives to be disloyal – he likely would have done so already.
For now, the former Ohio president’s appetite for revenge appears to be sated by attacking Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, a Republican who voted for impeachment in January. Mr. Trump organized a rally in the state in June to support a main challenger to Mr. Gonzalez. Mr. Vance was present, share a photo on Twitter to show his support for Mr. Trump.
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