A far-right Senate candidate in Ohio is still haunted by his past — of saying mean things about Trump

A far-right Senate candidate in Ohio is still haunted by his past — of saying mean things about Trump

In Ohio's 2022 GOP U.S. Senate primary, two far-right candidates — "Hillbilly Elegy" author J.D. Vance and former Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel — are engaged in a cartoonish battle to show Republican voters who is the most MAGA of the two. Liberal Washington Post opinion writer Greg Sargent, this week in his column, argues that Mandel has a major weapon to use against his opponent: Vance dared to say negative things about former President Donald Trump in the past.

Sargent explains, "J.D. Vance is running for the GOP nomination for Senate in Ohio, but he has a problem: He has criticized Donald Trump, which for many GOP primary voters, is immediately disqualifying. So, he's atoning for his heresies by positioning himself as the true keeper of the flame of Trumpism, which in turn, is providing a glimpse into just how hollow the ideology of Trumpism truly is. For those who want to salvage from the Trump era an ideological space that will endure — a Trumpist 'populist nationalism' — Vance is demonstrating the vacuousness of this as a political project."

Like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rep. Elise Stefanik of Upstate New York, Vance went from being a vehement Trump critic in 2016 to being an obsequious Trump sycophant during his years in the White House. In 2016, Vance commented that if Trump won the election, it would be terrible for the United States but would be great for book sales. In 2020, however, a much more Trumpified Vance gave the president an enthusiastic endorsement.

Vance didn't "evolve"; he flip-flopped because it was expedient. Now, Sargent observes, Vance and Mandel are fighting to show "who is more slavishly loyal to Trump and his legacy."

"Two super PACs supporting Mandel have launched nearly $1 million in ads hammering Vance's past criticism of Trump," Sargent writes. "These include Vance's admission that he didn't vote for Trump in 2016, and Vance's descriptions of Trump as 'noxious,' 'reprehensible' and 'an idiot.' Vance has grovelled for forgiveness for his anti-Trump apostasy, but those quotes live on. So, he's now arguing that he's much more faithful to the ideology of Trumpism than Mandel is."

Sargent continues, "To accomplish this, Vance is highlighting the funding of these ads by the Club for Growth, a group that favors standard-issue plutocratic GOP priorities on taxes and deregulation. Vance's campaign says the plutocrats are desperate to keep a true Trumpist populist out of the Senate."

In Ohio, a Rust Belt state, Vance and Mandel are both exalting Trump as a president who was fiercely loyal to the American working class — which, as Sargent points out, is laughable in light of how much Trump's economic policies favored America's ultra-wealthy.

Sargent wraps up his column by stressing that Vance's campaign is "saturated in performative anti-cosmopolitan posturing and demagoguery about elite cultural liberals, about critical race theory, about tech oligarchs, about immigration."

"All this flows from Vance's obvious goal of casting his populism entirely in the image of Trump himself," Sargent writes. "The need to pander to the Trump worship of GOP primary voters makes a reality-based conversation about the very problems Vance himself identifies impossible."

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