Poll after poll has shown that Donald Trump’s endorsement, when known to Republican primary voters, can shift a race nearly 30 points in favor of the endorsed candidate. Which is precisely why almost every candidate in almost every competitive primary has come asking for his backing. It’s why many were watching very closely to see what Trump would do in the Ohio U.S. Senate primary, where most polls have shown a three-way race between Josh Mandel, J. D. Vance, and Mike Gibbons.
We got our answer on Friday: J. D. Vance was the winner of the Trump sweepstakes, with the president sending out his official endorsement.
It was a fantastic endorsement. Among other things, it showed that Trump understands various dynamics, especially in light of his likely presidential run in 2024. First, he needs more outsiders like himself, people who are not beholden to the D.C. establishment and willing to think outside the box in a constitutional and populist way. Trump needs true allies in Congress, not the same hacks committed to a tired, corporatist Republican orthodoxy.
Former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) were rarely in sync with Trump during his first term—highlighting the glaring fissure in the Republican Party between the Chamber-of-Commerce wing of the party and the America First/constitutional populist wing. One might even be forgiven for thinking that Ryan and McConnell were fighting Trump most days and on most issues.
This is one of the reasons Trump is putting pieces on the chessboard now. If he runs and wins in 2024, he does not need a replay of his first term when it seemed that at least half of his priorities, like immigration reform and southern border security, were thwarted by Republican leadership on the Hill. What Trump needs in January 2025 are Republican majorities in both chambers, yes. But more importantly, he needs America First majorities within those Republican majorities.
That can only be achieved by playing an active role in Republican primaries in 2022 and 2024, using his undeniable clout to support and promote America First candidates.
And good for him: a party is what people say it is, and the people who say what it is are those who win primaries and show up at conventions. You get an America First Republican Party by winning Republican primaries with America First candidates, which is exactly what J.D. Vance is. To further the American First “revolution” inside the Republican Party, Trump will need to be even more insistent about making sure the RNC is run by and filled with America First loyalists, but that is a battle for post-January 2025.
Trump’s endorsement of Vance makes total sense. It is abundantly clear in the Ohio primary, Vance is the only candidate saying the right things about the important issues of the day from an America First perspective. Vance gets it.
Take, for example, his statements on Ukraine. The American people, but especially the Republican base, are not interested in any more foreign interventions; the neocon adventurism of the Bush Administration(s) has been firmly rejected.
But the only one taking a firm stance on that issue, highlighting the absurdity of fighting for a corrupt Eastern European nation’s borders and sovereignty while our very own southern border is in disarray, is Vance. He was mocked, uninvited from speaking engagements, and told he would lose the primary over his comments on Ukraine. In fact, in addition to the Trump endorsement, I think those comments will win the race for him: the most recent Trafalgar poll shows Vance surging into second place, less than six points behind Mandel and breaking away from Gibbons. He was already on the move before Trump’s endorsement, which will only further his momentum coming down the homestretch.
While Trump has made other endorsements in competitive Senate primaries, the Ohio primary will be one of the first serious tests of his clout: in a crowded field, with a relatively late endorsement, will he make a difference? We’re going to find out on May 3, but the odds are that he will. Everything points to it.
And given that Ohio has been trending red over the last few presidential election cycles and that the general dynamics of the 2022 races are heavily favoring Republicans across the country, we can assume that whoever wins the Republican primary in Ohio is likely to be the next U.S. senator from the Buckeye State. J. D. Vance is well poised to be the man.