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Not My Party: Will J.D. Vance Find Political Stardom?

The ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ author is amping up the populism for a Senate campaign.
July 1, 2021
Tim Miller's NOT MY PARTY | Will JD Vance Find Political Stardom?

This is a transcript. Watch Not My Party every Thursday on Snapchat.

Did Hollywood help propel a new race-baiting, culture-war ‘it boy’ to political stardom?

Vance: “And I’m not in this to lose, I’m in this to win.”

This is J.D. Vance. He looks like a cross between Elmer Fudd and three babies in a trench coat.

Vance: “Well, uh, thanks for that introduction.”

And he’s running for Senate in Ohio with his eyes on a future presidential bid.

Vincent Adultman from BoJack Horseman: “Hello, other grownup.”

You may have seen his Netflix movie Hillbilly Elegy, which was based on his critically acclaimed book. It was lauded as a nuanced portrait of the Trump-supporting, white working class that was all too often tarnished as racist or backwards.

And back then, J.D. played reviewers like a fiddle. He texted his agent saying that Trump winning would be terrible for the country, but good for book sales.

Elaine from Seinfeld: “Ya got that right.”

Everyone from Seth Meyers to Bill Gates used J.D.’s story to help them understand this crazy species that they’d never encountered in the wild: the Trump voter.

“Billy Wayne Ruddick” (Sacha Baron Cohen): “Isn’t that convenient?”

Now Vance is parlaying that media success into politics, and the former Trump skeptic has taken a dark turn. These days, he’s a Trump stan and he’s relying on racial resentment to reach the very voters that he was supposedly shining a more empathetic and nuanced light on. His Twitter feed has turned into kind of a Trumpian cosplay, but without any of the former tweeter-in-chief’s je ne sais quoi.

Madeline Kahn: “Oui oui!”

Last week, J.D. got really upset when [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] Gen. [Mark] Milley said:

Gen. Milley: I want to understand white rage. What is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America? What caused that?

In response, J.D. rage-tweeted, “The conservative [American]s you trash are disproportionately bleeding for this country.” Ah, so only angry white men serve in the military. Boy, that’s some subtle stuff there, bro. I wonder if the audience picked up on the dog whistle.

Pam Poovey from Archer: “Racist.”

In case you missed it, here he is on Tucker Carlson saying:

J.D. Vance: “Our cities are disgustingly violent. They’re increasingly dirty.”

Man: “Racist.”

He tweeted one video about how we don’t need police reform, but harsher penalties for criminals. And another that gleefully features a “visibly armed black man” in a criminal standoff.

Young Macaulay Culkin: “Gross.”

And said it’s a national embarrassment that the CIA would use phrases like “woman of color” and “intersectional.”

RuPaul on The Simpsons: “Byeeeeee.”

He said that the U.S. should seize money from woke institutions like Harvard that are harming our nation state.

Stan Marsh from South Park: “That seems kind of weird.”

And let’s see—all that’s just from the last month.

Here’s the worst part about J.D.’s new shtick: The points he’s made over the years about liberal elites looking down on and ignoring the forgotten hillbillies were right. They do do that! J.D. could have been a model for a new, more empowering kind of politics.

But instead of changing the way politicians address white, working-class problems, he’s using the same demagogic bullshit about race and crime and gays that every populist asshole has been employing since the AIDS crisis and Jim Crow. And instead of telling them the truth, he’s going with his dad to Trump’s conspiracy-election-fraud jamboree and going along with Big Lie b.s. like this:

Vance: “I would love it if the American vice president showed even a little compassion for the people who are living in these terrible conditions in her own country. She was elected—or whatever—to govern this country.”

Crap like that—

Vance: “Or whatever.”

—radicalizes people. And we saw the results on January 6. Some of them are now jailed. Or dead. And he’s doing all this because he doesn’t actually give a shit about the hillbillies. He’s using them because he wants to be a senator, like any other classic Yale dirtbag.

Earl Sneed Sinclair from Dinosaurs: “That’s the truth.”

Hopefully this campaign will be an elegy for this terrible style of politics.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.