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Thomas Gallatin / July 12, 2021

J.D. Vance From Hillbilly to Senator?

Rising Republican star J.D. Vance hopes to win the GOP primary to replace retiring Ohio Senator Rob Portman.

Who is J.D. Vance? To put it briefly, he’s a venture capitalist and author of the best-selling book (and Netflix movie) Hillbilly Elegy, and he recently threw his hat in the ring to fill the seat of retiring Republican Ohio Senator Rob Portman. Many see Vance as a young (he’s 36) rising populist and conservative star, and a formidable Senate candidate.

In announcing his candidacy last week, Vance explained his reason for running: “I think we need people in Washington who are fighters — and not just fighters, but smart fighters. There are a lot of fighters in Washington, DC. They just fight for the wrong things.” He further offered himself as one “who knows how the system works, who knows how to reform that system, and who can make this country better.”

In a recent interview with Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, Vance sought to explain why not all of the Republican establishment is on board with his candidacy. “I think so far a lot of them are frustrated and a little upset with me because I actually say what’s true,” he said, “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. They don’t understand their job in this country is to protect their own voters, to serve their best interests. So a lot of established Republicans, just like a lot of mainstream press and corporate media, they’re against me … and it’s fine.”

Vance is most famous for having understood why Donald Trump won the 2016 election when so many of the Washington elites were left befuddled. He knows middle America because he is middle America. His book Hillbilly Elegy was based on his memories of growing up in Appalachian Kentucky. “If you look at every issue in this country,” Vance observed, “every issue I believe traces back to this fact: On the one hand, the elites in the ruling class in this country are robbing us blind, and on the other, if you dare complain about it, you are a bad person.”

As Trump showed, there’s plenty of room for this populist message within the Republican Party, and the GOP ultimately benefits from maintaining that connection with the people.

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