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May 4, 2022

Trump the Kingmaker?

J.D. Vance and other Trump-endorsed candidates ran the table in yesterday’s primaries.

The introduction to J.D. Vance’s powerful 2016 memoir, Hillbilly Ellegy, is about to become obsolete.

“The coolest thing I’ve done, at least on paper,” wrote the young man whose roots are in dirt-poor, drug-addled Appalachia, “is graduate from Yale Law School, something thirteen-year-old J.D. Vance would have considered ludicrous.” And here’s the soon-to-be obsolete part: “I am not a senator, a governor, or a former cabinet secretary [emphasis ours].”

No, J.D. Vance isn’t yet a senator. That much is true. But he just went from fourth to first with the help of Donald Trump’s endorsement. Who wants to bet against him?

Yesterday, Vance, who served in the Marines from 2003-07, won the Ohio Republican Senate primary, taking an endorsement from Donald Trump and running with it to comfortably beat a talented field of candidates, including solidly conservative Josh Mandel and National Review heartthrob Matt Dolan. And given the anti-Joe Biden political climate and the fact that Ohio is no longer much of a swing state — Donald Trump carried it by eight points in both 2016 and 2020 — Vance is the odds-on favorite to beat “fake tough guy” Democrat Congressman Tim Ryan in November and retain the seat being vacated by retiring Senator Rob Portman.

Oh, and one other thing: Yesterday was supposed to be the first big test of the primary season’s referenda on Trump’s continued influence within the Republican Party. And much to the chagrin of the remaining Never-Trumpers, Trump-endorsed candidates went 22-0 in Ohio and Indiana — and they’re now a stunning 55-0 so far this season. That’s “0” as in zero. As Politico notes, “With a roster of more than 130 endorsements in midterm races to date, Donald Trump has put his political capital on the line in dozens of states and scores of primaries.”

Indeed, Trump-endorsed candidates win even when The Donald forgets their names. Now that’s juice.

Another big winner last night in this more populist Republican Party was Madison Gesiotto Gilbert, a former staffer in both of Trump’s presidential campaigns. His endorsement in a crowded Republican field swept her to victory in Ohio’s newly created 13th Congressional District, which, as the Washington Examiner reports, “has long covered territory hospitable to working-class, populist Democrats but is now swinging Republican.”

Trump’s record won’t remain unblemished. It can’t. One of his candidates, former Georgia Senator David Perdue, currently trails incumbent Republican Governor Brian Kemp, for whom Trump has had no shortage of enmity. But still.

As for Vance, our Thomas Gallatin first covered him last July. At that time, Vance discussed the resistance of some Republicans toward 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 told Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, “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.”

And so it was. Vance’s margin yesterday was eight points over Mandel and nine points over Dolan.

“I have absolutely gotta thank the 45th … president of the United States, Donald J. Trump,” said Vance at a victory speech in Cincinnati last night. “Ladies and gentlemen, it ain’t the death of the America First agenda.”

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