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JD Vance’s Journey: From ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ Author to Senator and VP Contender

In March 2022, Senate candidate JD Vance stood under the intense lights of a Cleveland television studio, debating four fellow Republicans about whether the U.S. should support a no-fly zone over Ukraine, less than a month into the conflict with Russia.

“Absolutely not,” Vance stated, adding, “I’m in the minority up here because, at the end of the day, we can accept as individuals that it’s tragic and terrible. What Vladimir Putin did was wrong in invading a sovereign country on his border. But we have our own problems in the United States to focus on.”

Vance’s campaign emphasized that he was prioritizing America’s needs above all else, which caught the attention of Donald Trump. Within 25 days, the former president endorsed Vance, assisting the “Hillbilly Elegy” author and Yale-educated Silicon Valley venture capitalist to defeat a crowded Republican field and secure Ohio’s open Senate seat.

This endorsement marked the beginning of a relationship that has now positioned Vance, 39, as a potential candidate for Trump’s vice presidential shortlist. Trump’s backing significantly boosted Vance’s career, and in return, Vance has consistently defended Trump’s policies and actions. Vance’s debating skills, articulating Trump’s vision, and fundraising capabilities are acknowledged advantages according to those familiar with the vetting process.

Initially, Vance’s relationship with Trump was fraught. His best-selling book earned him a reputation as a “Trump whisperer” who could elucidate the New York businessman’s appeal in middle America. However, Vance was a vocal critic of Trump in 2016, calling him “dangerous” and “unfit” for office. He also criticized Trump’s racist rhetoric.

Post-Trump’s victory, Vance returned to Ohio and established an anti-opioid charity. He became a regular on the lecture circuit, often appearing at Republican Lincoln Day dinners, pitching his ideas for national improvement, which opponents viewed as strategic steps towards a political career in 2021.

Former Republican Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof, who often shared stages with Vance, noted that Vance’s story resonated, particularly his experiences with his mother’s drug addiction amidst the opioid epidemic.

“The struggles that he’s talking about are the struggles that a lot of people could identify with,” Obhof said.

Vance’s background and perspective found supporters like Amanda Bailey, who believed that “Hillbilly Elegy” accurately portrayed Middletown’s struggles. However, the memoir also drew significant criticism for perpetuating stereotypes and offering limited policy insights, which some scholars and city officials found problematic.

Meredith McCarroll, co-author of “Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy,” criticized Vance for offering a narrow and negative representation of Appalachia. Vance acknowledged some of the criticisms, admitting he had distanced himself from the book to avoid future regret.

Despite this, the book introduced Vance to the Trump family. Don Jr. appreciated the memoir, and upon launching his political career, he and Vance established a lasting friendship. Vance’s rhetoric mirrored Trump’s populist views, and by the time they met in 2021, Vance had reversed his critical stance on Trump, praising his presidential achievements.

McCarroll suggested that Vance’s shift in stance reflected a willingness to say what is necessary to gain power. Once elected, Vance staunchly supported Trump on Capitol Hill.

Kevin Roberts, president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, remarked that Vance is now a prominent voice in the conservative movement, focusing on non-interventionist foreign policy, free-market economics, and American culture.

Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, noted that Vance articulates the America First ideology compellingly, presenting him as a valuable potential running mate for Trump.

Conversely, Democrats label Vance an extremist, citing his provocative positions, such as a national 15-week abortion ban and placing conditions on the 2024 election results that align with Trump’s stance.

Nonetheless, in the Senate, Vance has shown bipartisan collaboration, co-sponsoring a railway safety bill following an East Palestine train derailment and supporting legislation for Great Lakes restoration and worker and family benefits.

Chris Tape, Vance’s high school physics teacher, remembered him as engaging and patriotic, noting Vance’s resolve to serve his country through the Marines. Tape believes Vance is committed to his country and willing to take challenging paths to serve it.

“So I know at least one thing about him,” Tape said. “He believes in his country, he believes in serving it, and he’s willing to take a more difficult path directly in order to do that.”

Source: AP News