Ryan Girdusky: JD Vance's Winning Coalition
Where The Establishment Media Was Wrong Yet Again
“He was dead in the water,” “JD was going to get in fifth place,” and “he’s alienated every Republican,” this is what I heard for over a year during the time I worked on the Super PAC supporting JD Vance. People who built their careers as experts in politics were wrong and brazenly wrong about Vance and couldn’t understand how many of his positions that they called “disastrous” were actually building a winning coalition.
Here’s a point-by-point breakdown from inside the election and how JD’s coalition was built.
For this post, I am not going to talk about the Trump endorsement or Peter Thiel. Both men’s role was obviously very important. Since this Substack is about politics and policy, that’s where I’m keeping my focus—talking about the policies that the media said would alienate Republican voters but did the opposite.
Media Narrative 1: JD is isolating college-educated Republicans
While JD had the pedigree of being educated at Ohio State and Yale, his willingness to fight the culture war and focus on issues like immigration and abortion instead of sticking to tax cuts had the potential to isolate him from other college-educated, higher-income white suburbanites. This was supposed to be devastating to Vance in cities like Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton, and Toledo. Not only did he win most of the counties those cities were in, but he crushed it in the wealthier, college-educated suburbs outside of Columbus (the area around the red dot in the center of the map).
What many people do not recognize about the Republican primary electorate from 2016 is that Trump won a plurality of Republicans who earned over $75,000, attended college but did not graduate, and came in a close second with those who had graduated. Those Republican voters aren’t immediately turned off by conversations about immigration, trade, or China, especially when they’re done in a more nuanced style like the one JD Vance had on the campaign trail.
During the last few months of the campaign, Vance made immigration the cornerstone of his campaign. He often spoke about building Trump’s wall and declaring the Mexican Drug Cartel an international terrorist group, which would allow the military to go into Mexico and destroy their leadership. His campaign’s main commercial drove this issue home.
One of the biggest misconceptions people have is that middle-class and upper-middle-class Republicans just want to talk about tax cuts when they are some of the people most often engaged on issues like immigration but don’t like it when it’s spoken about in a more bombastic and less sensitive manner.
JD’s approach of exciting the base with the issue while approaching it in a style that made college-educated and upper-middle-class Republicans comfortable allowed him to not only sweep almost every suburb of Columbus and Cleveland but also win Cincinnati and Dayton. He also came in either first or second place in every single county across the state.
Media Narrative 2: JD’s Anti-War Rhetoric Would Turn Off Ohio’s Large Eastern European Population
Before the war in Ukraine started, Vance appeared on Steve Bannon’s show War Room and said that he was more concerned with the US’ southern border than Ukraine’s. At one point, he said, “I don’t care what happens in Ukraine,” which was clipped out of context and used in countless viral videos and opposition commercials.
Northeast Ohio is home to more than 40,000 Ukrainian-Americans and a much larger population of descendants from Eastern Europe. They were supposed to sink his chances of winning the Northeast and make it much more competitive in the overall primary.
Of course, what the media doesn’t realize is that they are out of sync with most Americans, especially Republicans. There’s huge sympathy for the Ukrainian people, but it doesn’t come with the demand that the U.S. taxpayers spend tens of billions of dollars or put troops on the ground.
Polls have found that a plurality of Americans views the US’ role as being a diplomatic broker, providing humanitarian aid and sanctions. Almost as many Americans want to do nothing as they want a full-blown invasion.
Not only did JD’s anti-war stance not hurt him in the election, but he won many of the heavily Ukrainian precincts in Parma and North Royalton. The areas most turned off by his anti-war stance and populist candidacy were the uber privileged neighborhoods like Westlake and Lakewood.
Media Narrative 3: JD’s Anti-Trump Comments Would Sink Him With Trump’s Base
JD Vance famously was a “Never-Trump guy” back in 2016. He endorsed and voted for Evan McMullin but changed his tune by 2018 and voted for Trump’s re-election in 2020. Millions upon millions of dollars were spent across the state to drive this idea to Trump’s base that JD was a secret Democrat and RINO.
It didn’t work.
Obviously, a big part of that was the endorsement from Trump, who reassured his base that all was forgiven. He even said during his rally that if he couldn’t support people who changed his mind about him, he would never endorse anybody.
Yet it goes further than that. JD's tour bus, which visited nearly every county in the state and many counties multiple times, helped reassure voters that he wasn’t trying to deceive them.
Unlike his adversaries who spoke in slogans (“Mom on a Mission,” “I’m an Anti-Establishment Fighter,” “I’m a Businessman,” “God, Guns, and Trump”), JD never spoke in slogans. He frequently said on the debate stage and in public forums that he was willing to give people the respect they deserved by speaking to them without using slogans.
Not only did Vance win, but his most vital support also came mostly from counties in Appalachia that supported Trump over then-Governor John Kasich in 2016.
The eastern and southern parts of the state that voted heavily for Trump over Kasich provided JD with large margins in the crowded field.
Obviously, with any campaign, there’s no one thing that gets a candidate elected. A strong candidate, a winning message, a good team, the right moment, the right amount of media attention, the national environment, having enough money, and flawed opponents are all part of the equation. JD Vance’s election had all those components to some degree and allowed him to come as the winner.
He will be the most important populist in the government should he win (and I believe he will).
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