In 2016, J.D. Vance, the successful author turned venture capitalist, was a hard-core critic of Donald Trump. The Republican nominee was “unfit,” his attacks on “immigrants, Muslims, etc.” were “reprehensible,” and his policy proposals ranged from “immoral to absurd.” Vance publicly endorsed Never Trump Republican Evan McMullin and expressed a fervent wish: “In four years, I hope people remember that it was those of us who empathized with Trump’s voters who fought him most aggressively.”
Now Vance hopes fervently that his aggressive fight against Trump is not remembered. Vance is currently running for the Republican nomination in Ohio, a constituency where Never Trump Republicanism plays more poorly than it does in, say, Silicon Valley. Vance appeared on Fox News to confess his sins and plead forgiveness from the voters whose approval he now seeks.
Vance argued that, much in the way we judge leaders from past eras by the standards of their time rather than by those of today, we should bear in mind that his anti-Trump comments were a product of a bygone age. “Like a lot of people, I criticized Trump back in 2016,” Vance conceded. “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.”
Lots of people were calling Trump a lying predatory huckster back in 2016. Now they all know better — or, at least, the ones who want to run for office as Republicans do.
While Vance’s profile has changed quite a bit during his meteoric ascent, one constant has been a fixation with the ignorance of voters in white rural communities. He exploded into national prominence with a bracing memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, that seemed (to national audiences) to explain the pathologies of Trump voters. Then he likened Trump to “cultural heroin,” a narcotic voters turned to to avoid their real problems.
Like any good capitalist, Vance pays careful attention to market signals and is quick to reposition his product when he has misjudged consumer demand. In his current role, he has tried to position himself as the enemy of the business elite (or at least the parts of the business elite not funding his campaign). Vance claimed that “career politicians” are “upset with me because I actually say what’s true — which is many of these people don’t care about their own voters; they think they’re either bigoted or they think they’re stupid.”
It is the other politicians who think Republican voters are stupid. Vance respects their intelligence enough to look them in the eye and beg their forgiveness for ever having suggested they are stupid to support Trump.