by Curt Mills
Tuesday, 23
March 2021

Can J.D. Vance offer Trumpism without Trump?

The author's potential senate run is turning heads in Washington
by Curt Mills
J.D. Vance could be the new face of Trumpism. Credit: Getty

Imagine a figure in American politics who warned against offshoring, an incoherent immigration policy, national humiliation abroad and, finally, disrepair at home.

He inveighed against a neglectful elite.

But unlike Donald Trump, he served his country in an unpopular war, rather than avoiding one. He writes his own books. He “came from nothing”. That is, the details of his biography were material for emulation, rather than a monied embarrassment. Like so many young people growing up in the United States today, he had no strong father figure.

And if, to his critics, his remarks about the state of the union carried a Trump-like whiff of bigotry, he need only point to his young biracial family in America’s heartland.

For Republicans, J.D. Vance, the likely Ohio senate candidate, represents both change and continuity. He could become the embodiment of Trumpism without the downsides of the man himself. Now his candidacy is attracting media hype and high-altitude backers like Peter Thiel. 

The Hillbilly Elegy author is not without his critics. Kevin Williamson, a former colleague of Vance’s at National Review is not convinced that Trumpism without Trump is a viable electoral strategy:

Vance is a celebrity of a different kind. If my understanding of the actual political situation is correct, then Vance is going to have trouble tapping into that Trump energy, because it will turn out that after all there was no Trumpism, only Trump. I hope I am wrong. (I’m not).
- Kevin Williamson, National Review

Others on the nationalist Right will recall that Vance voted for Evan McMullin, the neoconservative protest candidate, in the 2016 election — not Trump. But if Vance’s candidacy really takes off such sniping won’t affect him. It would just be the far-Right mirror image of the far-Left scorn that Vance has attracted for years.

Whoever he cast his ballot for in 2016, Vance understands the realignment that’s underway in American politics. To read his February 2016 column, “Trump speaks for those Bush betrayed” is to read a figure at ease with the demise of the old guard.

And it’s true, Vance speaks in a way that spooks Reaganites. Here’s what he had to say at the 2019 National Conservatism Conference:

Right off highway 101… you’ll find the Facebook headquarters. And at Facebook, there are neuroscientists currently being paid a lot of money quite literally to addict our children to their applications. And not far from the Facebook headquarters, there are neuroscientists working on how to cure dementia…. The people who are working at Facebook…. make much more money than the people who are attempting to cure our society of its worst disease. 
- J.D. Vance, National Conservatism Conference

Can Trumpism survive Trump? That is the key question in Republican circles right now. After considering a run for years, Vance is finally poised to launch his political career and provide some answers.

Join the discussion

  • Trump was about Patriotism, that was his core belief, that The United States of America is a beacon of light in a world always at risk from totalitarian, brutal, powerful, economy manipulating, global manipulating, warlike, nations, and freedoms must be first, and all be ready to make them the priority, and that means economic success and industrial independence, and a ferocity in defending freedom, as in a strong military, robust industry, and total adherence to the USA Constitution.

    Trumpism is 70% Trump, which is very sad, as all the people who climb the greasy pole of political office have to sell out to so many groups that by the time they are in position to run for the highest office they have compromised in so many ways they are no longer really for anything.

    Trump rose from outside the ‘Donor Class’, the ones who fund all political parties at all levels, and end up owning a politician just as Faust sold his soul to Mephistopheles. Trump could be an American First, unlike all the other ones who rose up the Party system as he owed no Global Elites allegiance. All thinking people see Biden as owned by the dark forces, and Harris more so, the Soros evil is throughout the Party system

  • “Trumpism is 70% Trump”
    Sanford, I have to say that I disagree. Long before Trump, people were tired of unending wars, of supporting US troops all over the world, of guaranteeing the security of people who would not spend their own money to defend themselves. People knew the Iran deal was garbage, many said so at the time and when it wasn’t submitted to the Senate for ratification. Same with the Paris Climate Agreement. people were tired of China and Europe taking advantage of the US on trade and of unnecessarily high unemployment, of energy dependence. People wanted freedom to run their businesses unmolested by the US government. People knew that we had a cabal of elites who had zero experience running a business or creating jobs making a giant mess of things. They knew that immigration was out of control and the border was wide open.
    Yes, Trump spoke to all those things. But he didn’t invent them. The minute he said he wanted to bring US troops home and end the wars his predecessors got us into, he had my vote. The economic policy was icing on the cake. But long before Trump I wanted these things, I had just never had the opportunity to vote for a candidate who said them so clearly and meant them as well. If another candidate come forward espousing these ideas, they get my vote, regardless of who they are. It does not have to be Trump. Or even a republican for that matter.

  • I have absolutely nothing against the US military. I don’t want to spend US dollars keeping US troops in places that can and should be defending themselves. Like Europe. For troops stationed in South Korea, they should be replaced by troops from other nations. Japan, Australia, countries in Southeast Asia. I want to share the burden of security around the world, it should not be solely up to the US.
    American military personnel should be home with their families, not stationed in places like Europe and South Korea. It’s well past time for others to do their part. If missions are necessary in the Middle East, Europe should take the lead.
    This isn’t about seeing the world. The US military isn’t a sight seeing organization. If Japan or South Korea or Germany want US troops stationed in their countries because their own militaries are not up to the task of national defense, then they must pay the cost of those troops. It’s time for the freebies to end. As a plus, this might encourage other countries that are currently free loading off the US for their security to build their own defense capacity while encouraging less of an adolescent attitude of dependence coupled with resentment. It could lead to a seriousness that is sadly lacking in places.

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