Why Trump Haters Have Set Their Sights on J. D. Vance 

The Progressive Left has a bullseye on J. D. Vance. Ever since he announced his run for the U.S. Senate in Middletown, Ohio last week to replace retiring Republican Rob Portman, the media has been bashing him. The Daily Beast claims he’s “an avatar of GOP corruption” and is upset that he mentioned Jeffrey Epstein and John Weaver as sex predators (the author says that’s a QAnon conspiracy!), while New York magazine says Vance’s campaign “feels doomed” less than 24 hours after he made his announcement speech in front of a pumped-up crowd of around 500.  

The liberal press is joined in its opposition to Vance by the anti-Trump ex-Republicans at the Lincoln Project, which spent close to $100 million against Trump last year. Bill Kristol and a list of other D.C.-based Trump haters have spent the days since his announcement calling Vance a “dirtbag” and a racist for using horrible terms like “nation-state.”

These same people have said almost nothing about Vance’s opponents in the Republican primary. Josh Mandel doesn’t seem to interest them, despite some warning signs about his candidacy—including the fact that much of his fundraising team resigned—or questions about his electability since he was trounced in his 2012 Senate race against far-left Sherrod Brown. 

Likewise, they haven’t had much to say about his other competitor Jane Timken, the former chairman of the state GOP. She, too, has some serious political problems, including defending her protégé, Ohio Representative Anthony Gonzalez’s vote to impeach Donald Trump and the fact that her family’s steel company outsources Ohio jobs to China.

So why are they so focused on J. D. Vance? Fox News host Tucker Carlson seems to like him, which probably only adds fuel to the fire. He said last week, I’m really glad you’re doing it. J. D. Vance, I admire you and I wish you luck.”


Still, there’s a political angle that probably makes the anti-Trump contingent’s silence strategic: they realize the other candidates’ flaws make them weaker in the general election against Representative Tim Ryan, the likely Democratic nominee, and they would like to see the Democrats pick up what should be a safe Republican seat in the Senate.

But an even more important factor is at work, and it’s the thing that makes the opposition to Vance among political and media elites particularly venomous. They feel betrayed. They thought Vance was on their side; that they had successfully coopted him into being another guy who left his hometown, went to college, and then looked down his nose at the people he grew up with. But he didn’t and now they’re mad.

Hillbilly Elegy, Vance’s memoir of life growing up amid trying personal circumstances against the backdrop of deindustrializing middle America, was a huge bestseller in 2016 and 2017. The New York Times said it was one of the six books you had to read to understand Trump’s victory and the white working class. This made Vance very popular with all of the fancy people in America’s big cities on the coasts who had him giving speeches explaining what the heck was going on in America’s heartland. They want him to act as a sort of tour guide to places they had never been—like Ohio.  

Vance’s personal story is important to understand. Growing up in Middletown, Ohio mostly with his grandparents, he enlisted in the Marine Corps after graduating from high school and was sent to Iraq. When he returned, he enrolled in the Ohio State University and graduated summa cum laude in just two-and-a-half years. 

That’s when the trajectory of his life really changed. A professor at Ohio State suggested he apply to Yale Law School. He was admitted to what is consistently the most competitive law school in the country. Instead of practicing law, he went to work for Trump-supporting investor Peter Thiel as a venture capitalist. Then he wrote the book and gained a modicum of celebrity with American elites. 

The way this usually works is that people leave places like Middletown, Ohio for places like Yale and then San Francisco. Their politics drift steadily leftward as they strive to assimilate into their new environments, to get along with their peers, and to get ahead in their careers. Everyone knows how it works. For Vance, it was all intensified because of the popularity of the book. He was taken up to the mountaintop and offered the world. It’s a hard offer to decline. But he did.

Instead, he moved his family back to Cincinnati—about 40 minutes from his hometown—and began investing in companies in interior America. And he became more public about his convictions. 

Against the odds, Vance had not become a liberal who was embarrassed of his roots when he was living on the coasts; he had grown to love them more. He had heard firsthand how coastal elites talk about Americans living in places like Middletown, Ohio. He had seen how wealth and opportunity were being extracted from the center of the country for the benefit of a tiny group of winners, and he wasn’t having any of it. That’s when those political and media elites that in 2016 and 2017 thought they had a new convert, realized that Vance had rejected them. 

And then the knives were out for him. It’s much more intense now that he’s a candidate for Senate, but it’s been going on for years.

In August 2019, the Washington Post ran an op-ed accusing Vance of—you guessed it—“white nationalism.” Why? Because he had just given a speech in which he said he thought it was good for America when people are getting married and having children and bad when they are not. 

Here’s part of what he said:

There are a lot of ways to measure a healthy society, but the most important way to measure a healthy society is by whether a nation is having enough children to replace itself. Do people look to the future and see a place worth having children in? Do they have economic prospects and the expectation that they’re going to be able to put a good roof over that kid’s head, food on the table, and provide that child with a good education? By every statistic that we have, people are answering ‘no’ to all of those questions.

That’s all it took for him to get attacked in the Post and across elite media, which added to and amplified those attacks. At the time, I wrote a rebuttal to the Post’s attack, in which I suggested that parents raising sons should use him as a role model. I stand by that, now more than ever. 

How did Vance avoid the siren song? How did he avoid becoming just another guy who left middle America, went to some elite school, and forgot, despised, or denounced where he came from? I think the answer must come from two things: how he was raised and his faith. 

His book talks about the value his family placed on loyalty, especially family loyalty, and that has clearly stuck with him. But the other part is his Christian faith which has clearly been both his rock and his hope. In his own words, he said  “. . . the more I saw our ruling class from the inside, the more I realized he (Donald Trump) was right to attack them in the way he did.”

And that’s why he’ll continue to be the object of particularly ugly attacks. All of his political enemies know he can win. And they’ll do anything to stop him, because they’ve already offered him the world and he turned them down. 

About Chris Buskirk

Chris is publisher and editor of American Greatness and the host of The Chris Buskirk Show. He was a Publius Fellow at the Claremont Institute and received a fellowship from the Earhart Foundation. Chris is a serial entrepreneur who has built and sold businesses in financial services and digital marketing. He is a frequent guest on NPR's "Morning Edition." His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Hill, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter at @TheChrisBuskirk

Photo: Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images

Support Free & Independent Journalism Your support helps protect our independence so that American Greatness can keep delivering top-quality, independent journalism that's free to everyone. Every contribution, however big or small, helps secure our future. If you can, please consider a recurring monthly donation.

Want news updates?

Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.