Ohio Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance, a venture capitalist and author of the bestselling book “Hillbilly Elegy,” disparaged then-President Donald Trump as a “moral disaster” whose administration had “no domestic policy agenda besides tax cuts” in Twitter direct messages from summer 2017.
Vance made the comments, which were sent to a former friend from law school and obtained and verified by CNN’s KFile, in the context of stating his opposition to the American Health Care Act – the Republican plan to replace Obamacare, which passed the House but not the Senate. Vance said he would attempt to personally lobby members of Congress to kill the bill.
“Can you imagine running as an anti-AHCA populist who thinks Trump is a moral disaster,” Vance wrote. “Where’s my constituency?”
In other anti-Trump comments from 2016, 2017 and 2018 found by CNN’s KFile in a review of Vance’s media appearances, he agreed that then-candidate Trump was a fraud who he didn’t think cared about people and said he might vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016 if he really believed Trump could win.
“I cannot stand Trump because I think he’s a fraud. Well, I think he’s a total fraud that is exploiting these people,” Kentucky radio host Matt Jones said to Vance in August 2016.
“I do too,” Vance replied. “I agree with you on Trump, because I don’t think that he’s the person. I don’t think he actually cares about folks. I think he just recognizes that there was a hole in the conversation and that hole is that people from these regions of the country, they feel ignored. They feel left out and they feel very frustrated. And I think of course in a lot of ways they feel that way for totally justifiable reasons. So it’s a problem that Trump has been the vessel of a lot of that frustration.”
Vance entered the crowded primary to fill the seat of retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman in early July. The field already included former State Treasurer Josh Mandel, former Ohio Republican Party Chair Jane Timken and businessmen Bernie Moreno and Mike Gibbons.
But after his announcement, Vance had to immediately apologize for now-deleted tweets sent in 2016, uncovered by CNN’s KFile, in which he disparaged Trump as “reprehensible” and said he would be voting for third-party candidate Evan McMullin.
Vance declined to comment for this story.
In an interview with NPR in August 2016, Vance said he might even vote for Clinton.
“I think there’s a chance, if I feel like Trump has a really good chance of winning, that I might have to hold my nose and vote for Hillary Clinton,” Vance said.
Trump’s policies related to immigration were overly simplistic, Vance said in September 2016, citing Trump’s message on building a wall on the southern US border.
“At the heart of Trump’s immigration message is that if we had less immigration, we would have much better jobs,” he said. “I think it’s a lot more complicated than that. My own sense is that Trump definitely simplifies these problems. I don’t think if you build a great Mexican wall, all of a sudden, all of these steel mill jobs are going to come back to southern Ohio, but it at least gives people something to latch onto.”
Comments during the Trump administration
After Trump was inaugurated in January 2017, Vance’s public criticisms of Trump’s moral behavior became less frequent, but he continued to criticize him on policy and predicted a scandal-ridden presidency.
“I think we’re in for quite a ride,” Vance wrote in a since-deleted January 2017 tweet, available through the Internet Archive, when asked about potential scandals.
“Can’t be repeated enough,” Vance added in February 2017 on the same day Trump spoke about America’s trade policies. “If you’re worried about America’s economic interest, focus more on automation/education than trade protectionism.”
In January 2018, Vance announced that he would not seek to challenge Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown in that year’s election, saying that “it’s just not a good time” and he had “thought seriously about running in August 2017.”
A month after his announcement, he still said he wasn’t sure the Trump administration had long-term policies that would improve people’s lives.
“The part that is forward-looking and answers the question ‘What do we do now?’ — it’s just not there yet,” Vance told the Financial Times in February 2018, suggesting Trump relied too much on standard Republican orthodoxy from the Reagan years.
But by 2019, Vance’s views on Trump began to shift to be more publicly supportive of him on policy.
In June 2019, Vance said he thought Trump had been a “wild success” with his China and Middle East foreign policy. He said Trump completely transformed American policy regarding China by taking a harsher stance against the country and that, unlike former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Trump had avoided getting the US into any “stupid” wars in the Middle East.
Vance, however, was still critical of Republican health care legislation.
“I think about the healthcare legislation, which I think was genuinely a moral and political disaster and I’m glad that it never passed,” he said.
In March 2021, before launching his Senate campaign, Vance publicly declared that his support for Trump was based on policy.
“I didn’t think the policy was going to be that good, and the policy was much better than I thought it was going to be,” he told radio host Sebastian Gorka. “I was really happy with the policy. And so, that’s what caused me to become a Trump supporter.”