The Vilification of J.D. Vance - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Vilification of J.D. Vance

When Hillbilly Elegy was published in June of 2016 its author, J.D. Vance, became an instant celebrity and a much-sought-after guest on the talking head circuit. He had everything — a best-selling book that was getting rave reviews in the leading birdcage liners, a Yale law degree, and genuine roots in the working class that was fueling the startling success of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Best of all, Vance was occasionally willing to criticize Trump himself.

Vance’s popularity with the chattering class began to wane after the 2020 election, however, when some of his political opinions were deemed insufficiently woke. His fall from grace continued when he announced his intention to run as a Republican for the Ohio Senate seat soon to be vacated by retiring Sen. Rob Portman. Then Vance did the unthinkable — he praised Donald Trump and accepted the former president’s endorsement. He completed his conversion to the dark side last Tuesday by winning the GOP nomination to replace Portman.

The corporate media responded with predictable vitriol. New York magazine, for example, ran a column by Jonathan Chait titled, “J.D. Vance Is a Dangerous Authoritarian.” Chait is profoundly shocked that the Ohio Republican Party has accepted the will of the voters: “There is no evidence it has even considered an alternative … they have lined up behind Vance without hesitation.” Never mind that he defeated five competitors in a wide open primary, Chait regards the GOP’s failure to reject him as an abject surrender to authoritarianism:

In case you still harbored the faintest hope that the party has some moral red line, its unquestioning affirmation of Vance ought to dispel it.… Politicians who wish to defend democracy ought to draw a line at supporting allies who pose a threat to democracy. J.D. Vance is an authoritarian. Granted, this charge is difficult to prove without first handing him power, but the authoritarian nature of his beliefs is established as clearly as it can be without a pile of corpses.

In reality, the “authoritarian” charge is difficult to prove because it’s hysterical nonsense with nary a scrap of evidence to support it. But hysteria seems to be the order of the day where Vance is concerned. Politico ran an interview on Friday with Silas House, the Appalachian Studies chair at Berea College in Kentucky, who handed down his indictment of Vance in an election night tweet: “He’s dangerous. So is his book.” This weird claim is based on House’s belief that Hillbilly Elegy isn’t a real memoir. It is, instead, “a treatise in disguise.”

He expands on this head-scratcher by insisting that everything we’ve learned about Vance since the book came out “proves that it was just laying the groundwork for his political career.” House doesn’t explain why an aspiring politician would publish such a book five years before entering an actual political campaign, or why he would fill it with so many unflattering images of his own family. He simply asserts that Vance’s malevolent motivations for writing Hillbilly Elegy have been abundantly clear from the moment he first perused it:

The first time I read it, it read like the launching of a political campaign to me. As someone who has read a lot of political memoirs, it felt that way. It’s an origin story, and to some degree it’s a superhero origin story that’s terribly condescending to the rest of his family. The gist of it is, “Well, I’m the one who made it out, I’m the one who’s successful. I had the same sort of opportunities they did, but I did it, and they didn’t.”

Even if this odd interpretation of Hillbilly Elegy could be taken seriously, it still doesn’t explain the “Vance is dangerous” narrative. What’s really going on here, of course, is the usual vilification of any Republican candidate endorsed by Donald Trump. Having learned nothing from Terry McAuliffe’s failure to make Virginia’s 2021 gubernatorial race about the former president, the Democrats and the corporate media will attempt to portray any candidate he supports as a sinister authoritarian who cannot be trusted to hold public office.

A few days after Vance won the GOP nod, President Biden appeared in Ohio to talk about his plan to reinvigorate manufacturing in the rust belt. But the President’s unpopularity was highlighted by Rep. Ryan’s absence from the event. According to a Bloomberg report, “Ryan dodged questions about whether he wanted Biden campaigning for him.” Vance will show no such reticence to accept help from Trump. At an April campaign rally, he called Trump the “best president of my lifetime.” His Tuesday victory speech included the following:

I have absolutely got to thank the 45th President if the United States Donald J. Trump.… Thanks to the President for everything, for endorsing me. And I got to say, a lot of the fake news media out there, and there are some good ones in the back there, there’s some bad ones, too, let’s be honest, they wanted to write a story that this campaign would be the death of Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda. Ladies and gentlemen, it ain’t the death of the “America First” agenda.

The Democrats have been casting a lustful eye on Sen. Portman’s Ohio seat since he announced his retirement and, until last week’s primaries, they seemed to have a decent chance of flipping it. Then, Vance won the Republican Senate nomination while Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan captured the Democratic nomination. Ryan isn’t a bad candidate, as Democrats go, but he will likely be defeated by a GOP opponent like Vance, who enjoys very high name recognition and the endorsement of Donald Trump in a state the latter won by 8.03 points in 2020.

All of which makes Vance “dangerous.” Roger Sollenberger at the Daily Beast has even managed to dig up a former roommate willing to use that adjective against Vance. Not coincidentally, this character is a Democratic politician who says it took Trump’s endorsement to seal the deal for him: “I started to realize that he was the most dangerous candidate.” And, in a way, Vance is dangerous — to the Democratic Party whose Senate majority may well stand or fall depending on whether he does indeed defeat Congressman Ryan in November.

David Catron
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David Catron is a recovering health care consultant and frequent contributor to The American Spectator. You can follow him on Twitter at @Catronicus.
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