2022 midterms

J.D. Vance’s Rivals Scrambled to Stop Trump From Endorsing Him

Who will get the all-important Trump endorsement? Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photos: Getty Images

There is a school of thought that the value of Donald Trump’s candidate endorsements has been overrated. But don’t tell that to Ohio Republicans, who appeared to freak out over reports this week that Trump was on the brink of endorsing J.D. Vance in the highly competitive GOP primary for U.S. Senate, which will conclude on May 3.

To be more specific, people backing Vance’s Republican rivals were flipping out and using every channel of communication into Trump World to head off a significant nod from the Big Man benefiting the Hillbilly Elegy author and venture capitalist turned politician. Some of these pleas were public, as Politico reported:

A collection of more than three dozen county GOP chairs and state party central committee members — including some from the state’s most populous counties — … banded together to sign a letter urging Trump not to endorse Vance, noting that he “referred to your supporters as ‘racists’ and proudly voted for Evan McMullin in 2016.”

“While we were working hard in Ohio to support you and Make America Great Again,” they wrote in a letter obtained by POLITICO, “JD Vance was actively working against your candidacy.”

Vance opponents have been bringing up his shameful Never Trump past constantly during the Ohio campaign, so it’s unlikely to have escaped the former president’s attention. But it never hurts to remind him of slights given his hypersensitivity to those guilty of doubting his world-historical greatness.

A bit more privately, backers of Vance’s rivals have been telling those close to Trump that Tucker Carlson’s favorite Senate candidate is a stone-cold loser. Per Politico:

With an eye toward influencing Trump’s inner circle, on Thursday morning, Remington Research, a polling firm connected to former state treasurer Josh Mandel’s campaign, began circulating to top Republicans a polling memo arguing that a Trump endorsement of Vance would fail to vault Vance into serious contention.

Indeed, the campaign of another Vance opponent, former state Republican Party chair Jane Timken, recently released a poll showing Vance running fifth in the field of five major candidates.

But this argument received a blow on April 15 when the Trafalgar Group released a poll showing Vance (with the support of 23 percent of likely primary voters) within striking distance of Mandel (at 28 percent), and the rest of the field trailing badly. The poll also showed 53 percent of respondents saying a Trump endorsement would make them more likely to vote for a candidate and 26 percent saying it would make such a vote “much more likely.” This was all grist for the pro-Vance mill.

There are multiple indications that Donald Trump Jr. was the voice closest to the 45th president whispering in his ear to endorse Vance. Junior has repeatedly defended Vance against the Never Trump charges, calling him “100 percent America First.” And there are other indications that J.D. is the preferred candidate of the National Conservative, or Viktor Orbán, wing of the MAGA movement. Along with earning the affections of Carlson, he has been endorsed by Josh Hawley and Marjorie Taylor Greene.

And after all the scrambling and the yelling and screaming, Trump did endorse Vance on April 15. Presumably he will explain his reasoning on April 23 when he is scheduled to headline one of his famous rallies in Delaware, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus. But the jostling for the former president’s ear was something to behold, and likely a phenomenon he enjoyed immensely.

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J.D. Vance Rivals Scrambled to Stop Trump From Endorsing Him