Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance is running for Senate in Ohio. This was inevitable, and it is also not going very well at the moment. Vance was only partway through his official launch speech on Thursday night when God intervened and divided his campaign sign from his lectern:
As portents go, this one is spectacularly obvious. Vance’s campaign will face serious headwinds, despite his national fame and a $10 million investment from Peter Thiel. A best-selling book does not necessarily translate to electoral appeal; neither does the critically panned adaptation of that book. The Senate race will likely orient around the Trumpiest candidate, and there Vance might anticipate some trouble.
In recent years, Vance has fashioned himself into a right-wing nationalist to rival Trump. With frequent appearances on Fox News, and on Tucker Carlson’s show in particular, he’s become fluent in the language of white grievance and demonstrated his capacities to full effect on Thursday evening, “railing against critical race theory, attacking the Biden administration’s border policies and criticizing Dr. Anthony Fauci,” Politico reports. But Vance was once a Trump critic, a stance he recently acknowledged in a June letter to members of the Ohio Republican Party state central committee. “People ask me what changed, and it’s pretty simple: at the time, I didn’t believe that a Democrat from New York would be able to accomplish much,” he wrote. “I was wrong, and importantly, the more I saw our ruling class from the inside, the more I realized he was right to attack them in the way he did.”
Although he’s taken care to rebrand, his earlier criticisms of Trump may still come to haunt him. Vance appears to realize this, as a number of fascinating tweets have vanished from his prolific account.
The average voter may not pay much attention to Twitter, but the deletions won’t escape Vance’s competitors, who can mostly boast more consistent loyalties to Trump and who have already been running for weeks. (Josh Mandel, for instance, is known to voters as a former state legislator and as the former Ohio Treasurer, and has run a highly Trumpian campaign since February.)
Vance has created other problems for himself. His decision to run as an outsider — a label prominently displayed on his doomed campaign sign — suffers not only from his past inconsistencies, which reveal a level of political cynicism, but from the realities of his life. Vance can attack elites all he wants; the fact remains that he is one. The very appeal of his book rested on a bootstraps narrative that upheld his attendance at Yale Law School as proof he’d transcended his troubled background in Appalachia. Vance then worked for Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal. Thiel isn’t the only wealthy interest invested in Vance’s campaign, either. He also enjoys the backing of the Mercer family. If Vance’s fellow candidates want to question his outsider credentials, they’ve got plenty of fuel.
Though it’s too early to count out the power of money to buy a race, Vance’s entire endeavor feels doomed. The field is packed, Trump already has acolytes to endorse, and the people of Ohio may not care that Glenn Close scored an Academy Award nomination for her interesting performance as Mamaw in Hillbilly Elegy the film. Alas, J.D., we hardly knew ye.