Before the 2016 election, JD Vance called Donald J. Trump “cultural heroin” and a demagogue who “led the white working class into a very dark place.”
On Tuesday, Mr. Vance’s win in a crowded Republican field before the Ohio Senate was largely due to a late-race endorsement from the former president he once denounced.
The conversion of Mr. Vance, an author and venture capitalist, from Trump skeptic to full-fledged Trump ally could fill a second memoir, a sequel to his best-selling “Hillbilly Elegy,” the story of Mr. Vance about growing up poor in Kentucky and Ohio. When that book was published in 2016, it was devoured by the “coastalites” he now faces off as a means for them to decipher the white working class’ support for Mr. Trump.
Mr. Vance’s book pointed inward to explain the misery of his community: He blamed a personal “lack of agency” for drug abuse, benefit dependency and chaotic lives. But as a politician, he has pointed the finger outward, at external enemies, just as Mr. Trump did.
During his campaign, Vance blamed companies for sending jobs to China and accused liberals of opening borders to cheap labor and opioid traffickers. The intimate voice of “Hillbilly Elegy” gave in to a darker tone and language. He denounced “idiots” in Washington and “bastards” in the news media.
His critics, including Republican rivals in Ohio, said he turned himself inside out to mimic Mr Trump’s warmongering pursuit of votes. Opponents spent millions on assault ads reminding voters that Mr. Vance had once called himself “a Never Trump man” and said some voters supported Mr. Trump “for racist reasons”.
mr. Vance, during a slog through Ohio that he called the “No BS Town Hall Tour,” explained to modest crowds that he had gone through a political evolution and acknowledged that Mr. Trump was right on one issue after another.
“I was like, ‘Man, you know, when Trump says the elites are fundamentally corrupt, they don’t care about the country that made them who they are, he was actually speaking the truth,'” he told a conservative. podcaster. last year.
Today, Mr. Vance, who graduated summa cum laude from Ohio State University and then attended Yale Law School, has found a political home with the movement known as national conservatism, an effort to add an intellectual framework. to Trumpism. National conservatives lean to the right on issues of diversity and immigration restrictions, but lean to the left on economics and oppose unfettered free trade, especially with China.
Mr. Vance, 37, grew up in Middletown, Ohio, where a Kentucky grandfather had moved for a job as a steel mill. In the years following JD Vance’s birth in 1984, the city eroded as workers disappeared, opioids arrived, marriages dissolved and much of the industrial Midwest became “a center of misery” for the white working class, he wrote in his letter. book. memoirs.
Mr. Vance’s mother, Bev, struggled with a drug addiction. He was raised largely by his maternal grandparents, most notably the grandmother he called Mamaw, who “loved the Lord,” “loved the F-word” and owned 19 handguns, he said during the campaign.
After high school, Mr. Vance enlisted in the Marines and served in Iraq as a public affairs officer. He returned home in a hurry and sailed across the state of Ohio in less than two years.
While at Yale, he met a fellow student whom he would marry, Usha Chilukuri, who later went on to become a clerk to an appellate judge, Brett M. Kavanaugh. Democrats’ fierce opposition to Trump’s appointment of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in 2018 appeared to be a turning point in Mr. Vance’s political transformation.
“Trump’s popularity in the Vance household has risen significantly during the Kavanaugh fight,” he recalled in 2019.
Mr. Vance started working as a venture capitalist in San Francisco for Peter Thiel, a billionaire founder of PayPal, whom he had heard speaking at Yale. Mr. Thiel, a Silicon Valley conservative, also influenced Mr. Vance’s politics, most notably his opposition to China and immigration.
When Mr. Vance moved his family, which now includes three children, back to Ohio, he raised money from Mr. Thiel for his own venture capital fund – and followed the Thiel tradition by naming the company Narya Capital with a “Lord of the Rings” reference.
Mr. Thiel poured $13.5 million into a political action committee to support Mr. Vance’s race.
As a candidate, Mr. Vance struggled to convert author celebrity to widespread recognition and support from the Republican base. He was constantly trailing his rivals in the polls, and Mr. Thiel’s millions were running out.
But that all changed with Mr Trump’s approval on April 15. Most of the Republican field had aggressively auditioned for the former president’s hallmark. Mr. Vance first pitched Mr. Trump at a meeting in Mar-a-Lago, mediated by Mr. Thiel. Donald Trump Jr. and Fox News host Tucker Carlson also lobbied for Mr. Vance.
“JD Vance may not have said great things about me in the past,” Trump said when announcing his pick, “but he understands now, and I’ve seen that in spades.”