Vance, the author of the critically acclaimed memoir “Hillbilly Elegy,” formally entered the Ohio Republican US Senate primary on July 1. By July 5, he was apologizing for (and deleting) past tweets that were critical of Trump.
In posts first unearthed by CNN’s KFile, Vance repeatedly bashed Trump during the 2016 campaign — calling the billionaire businessman “reprehensible” and saying that “in 4 years, I hope people remember that it was those of us who empathized with Trump’s voters who fought him most aggressively.” Vance also tweeted out that he had voted for Evan McMullin in the 2016 election.
It wasn’t just tweets. In 2016, Vance wrote in USA Today that “Trump’s actual policy proposals, such as they are, range from immoral to absurd.” He also called Trump “cultural heroin,” who “makes some feel better for a bit,” in a piece that year for The Atlantic.
Vance appeared on Fox News — where else — on Monday to try to make nice with Trump voters.
“Like a lot of people, I criticized Trump back in 2016,” Vance explained. “And I ask folks not to judge me based on what I said in 2016, because I’ve been very open that I did say those critical things and I regret them, and I regret being wrong about the guy. I think he was a good president, I think he made a lot of good decisions for people and I think he took a lot of flak.”
Look. This isn’t complicated. In 2016, Vance wasn’t running for Senate. Now he is. What he said then was what he believed. What he is saying now — essentially totally disowning what he said then — is born of political necessity.
That necessity? Kissing up to Trump. The political reality at the present moment, and this has been the case since at least 2017, is that you simply cannot win a contested Republican primary unless you are outspokenly pro-Trump.
Nowhere is that fact on clearer display than in Ohio, where an open seat created by the retirement of Sen. Rob Portman (R) has turned into a battle for who can love on Trump more.
* Josh Mandel, the former state treasurer, tweeted a 10-second video last month of himself lighting a face mask on fire. The tweet was accompanied by the word “freedom” and two emojis: one wearing a medical mask and the other of flames. (The video has been viewed 2.1 million times.)
* Former state party chair Jane Timken ran ads in advance of the former President campaigning in Ohio late last month. The ads featured Timken going full sycophant: “Nothing energizes our conservative grassroots more than a Trump rally!” she said in the ad.
* Wealthy businessman Mike Gibbons served as the co-chair for Trump’s fundraising effort in the Buckeye State and said this recently of the former President: “I was his co-chair, I raised a lot of money for him, I gave a large amount of money and I support his policies, period.”
Need more? How about this Politico reporting of a gathering of the major candidates — sans Vance — at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago this spring:
“What ensued was a 15-minute backroom backbiting session reminiscent of Trump’s reality TV show. Mandel said he was ‘crushing’ Timken in polling. Timken touted her support on the ground thanks to her time as state party chair. Gibbons mentioned how he’d helped Trump’s campaign financially. [Bernie] Moreno noted that his daughter had worked on Trump’s 2020 campaign.”
The Vance flip-flop, then, is simply the latest proof that there is no room for a candidate to have ANY views EVER that are anything less than utterly supportive of Trump. Like, anything.
Ohio is also evidence of why the narrative of an ongoing fight for control of the hearts and minds of the Republican Party is fundamentally inaccurate. There is no fight. Trump won. And he won in a walkover.
That doesn’t mean that, say, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), who is backed by establishment Republicans and opposed by Trump, can’t win in 2022. She might be able to! What it means is that, broadly speaking, any GOP candidate who is not already an incumbent is going to have a VERY hard time winning (or even being competitive) in a Republican primary if they are anything but absolutely loyal to Trump.
It took Vance four days to figure that math out. And those four days could still wind up costing him a real chance at winning.