May 9, 2022

J.D. Vance's win in Ohio.

J.D. Vance's win in Ohio.

Plus, a new podcast and a reader question on the economic recovery.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 11 minutes.

JD Vance wins in Ohio. Plus, a reader question about the economic recovery.

JD Vance, who won the Ohio Republican Senate primary. Photo: Gage Skidmore
JD Vance, who won the Ohio Republican Senate primary. Photo: Gage Skidmore 

ICYMI.

On Friday, I published a slew of reader feedback on our Roe v. Wade coverage. As I said in the piece, along with sharing a wide range of professional punditry, the only way to truly bring balance to this project is to periodically include the views of my readers and criticisms of my own writing. So, you can find those views in that edition (for paying subscribers only).  


New interview!

On Friday, I sat down with Jacob Mchangama, a Danish lawyer, human rights advocate, and author of the new book Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media.

Jacob's book is a tour de force of the history of free speech and its value to a free society. I can't recommend it strongly enough. But a good place to start is with our podcast interview, where we talk about some of the themes in the book and what he learned while writing it. I was delighted to learn before our interview that Mchangama was already a Tangle reader and had been following some of my reporting, especially given that his work has inspired so much of my attitude about open discourse.

You can listen to the podcast here.


Quick hits.

  1. Senate Democrats are seeking to codify abortion rights into federal law with a bill being brought to the Senate floor. The effort will likely fail, but Democrats want to hold the vote anyway. (The vote)
  2. Rudy Giuliani withdrew from an interview with the Jan. 6 committee after it refused his request to allow him to record the interview. (The reversal)
  3. Leaders of the Group of 7 nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States) have pledged to phase out Russian oil imports. (The ban)
  4. First Lady Jill Biden made a surprise visit to Ukraine. The Biden administration is accelerating plans to reopen the U.S. embassy in Kyiv. (The visit)
  5. In his forthcoming memoir, Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper alleges that former President Trump asked him to launch missiles into Mexico to destroy drug labs and then deny it was the United States. (The allegations)
  6. In Afghanistan, the Taliban published a decree requiring women to cover their faces in public, and said a woman's "male guardian" will be visited and advised if she violates the law. (The decree)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.


Today's topic.

JD Vance's win in Ohio. Last week, Vance won the Republican primary for the hotly contested Senate seat that opened when Republican Sen. Rob Portman decided to retire. He is now set to face Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), who won his primary easily, in the general election. Ryan enters the race as the underdog in a state that Trump won by eight points in 2020, and after a primary race where Republican turnout far outnumbered Democrats (1.1 million to 500,000).

Vance, perhaps best known as the author of Hillbilly Elegy, was once a staunch critic of Donald Trump. But in the last few years, he has rallied behind the former president. In April, Vance trailed rival Josh Mandel in the polls, but after a late endorsement from Trump, campaign visits from Donald Trump Jr., and some financing from billionaire Peter Thiel, his fortunes turned. He surpassed the competition and eventually won the primary with 32% of the vote (Mandel got 24% and State Sen. Matt Dolan 23%).

Throughout the late stages of the campaign, Vance repeatedly thanked the former president for his endorsement and said he was wrong in his previous criticism. In his victory speech, he pledged to unite Ohio conservatives, saying he'd also appeal to the moderates in the state.

This race was one of the most visible Senate primaries of the season, and was closely watched as a litmus test of Trump's sway in the GOP and the realignment of the party in the years following Trump’s presidency. Below, we'll take a look at some reactions from the right and left, then my take.


What the right is saying.

  • The right mostly celebrates the win and points to Trump's endorsement as the reason.
  • Some say it is proof the GOP's transformation to Trumpism is nearly complete.
  • Others argue that it's not nearly the Trump bump some people are making it out to be.

In The Washington Examiner, Tiana Lowe credited Donald Trump Jr. and Vance for the "purge of the neocons."

"The Cook Political Report called Tuesday night's primary for Vance a little more than an hour after polls closed, a staggering feat for a race Vance never led in the polls prior to a fortnight ago," Lowe wrote. "The former president's endorsement came late enough that it risked missing out on early voters, and 45 seemed personally uninterested enough in the race that he accidentally referred to Vance as 'J.D. Mandel.' But Don Jr., the Trump with the most careful finger to the pulse of the GOP heartland, was paying attention. From February, Vance was willing to take ample public pushback for refusing to peddle the same hysteria about Russia's invasion of Ukraine, never siding with President Vladimir Putin, as his critics liked to insinuate, but instead redirecting rage to our own border insecurity. The real point of inflection came in March when Mandel, letting the MAGA mask slide for a second, endorsed a European-led no-fly zone over Ukraine, and Vance held firm.

"So what if Vance had said mean things about the elder Trump?" Lowe asked. "Trump has said mean things about everyone, and it's never stopped him from forging an alliance of convenience with them later on. As emissaries of the so-called New Right, Don Jr. and Tucker [Carlson] know Vance understands what time it is in the conservative movement. The social issues of the day include championing taxpayers and parents to reclaim schools from intersectional terrorists and teachers unions, not a gay marriage debate from the last century. And if the No. 1 national issue for Republicans is fixing the Brandon economy, the No. 1 intraparty issue is purging what remains of the neocons."

Matt Schlapp said Vance's victory proves "the old GOP has been transformed."

"This could be the most exciting aspect of this year’s Big Red Wave — victorious candidates who are healthy from giving up the junk food of corporate PAC checks and the largess of most of the big money players who usually finance establishment Republican victories and the resulting carefully constructed caution that always follows," Schlapp said. "Many of these companies broke with Republican politicians over GOP insistence on voter I.D. These companies have accepted the left wing orthodoxy that photo I.D.s are racist and so they also lavish financial support to BLM umbrella groups that foment racial discord... But the all too obvious story here is the impact of Trump on primaries and the eventual success of his strategy in the midterms.

"However, what is less understood or discussed is how quickly the GOP, which never changes, has," Schlapp said. "This could be the most enduring legacy of the Trump years. It is not so much that he drained the swamp, he just exposed it.  It could also be argued that Trump finished the job of breaking down Washington that Reagan started 50 years ago. For the political class of Washington the Trump era was a bad dream that they strongly believe is forever in the rearview mirror... Wiser eyes can see that the GOP has been transformed.  Across the country Trump and his allies are the standard, and even those who are independent of America First understand that America is in a dire situation that is not of Trump’s making but due to the radical lurch to the left by the Democrats, educational institutions, culture creators and corporate elitists being poorly advised by the Zuckerbucks bunglers at the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable."

In The Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove took a different angle, saying it "isn't a big win" for Trump.

"His victory showed the strength of Mr. Trump’s support among Republicans, as well as its limitations," Rove wrote. "The last poll before Mr. Trump endorsed on April 15—taken by the Trafalgar Group—showed Mr. Vance at about 23%, trailing former Treasurer Josh Mandel, who held 28%. Both candidates were ahead of businessman Mike Gibbons at 14%, state Sen. Matt Dolan at a little under 12%, former state GOP Chairwoman Jane Timken at just below 8%, and two others who together held roughly 3%. About 13% of voters were undecided. Tuesday, Mr. Vance won with 32%, followed by Mr. Mandel at 24%, Mr. Dolan at 23%, Mr. Gibbons at 12% and Ms. Timken at 6%—with about 3% going to the remaining two candidates.

"The former president’s support led tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel to give Mr. Vance’s super PAC $3.5 million for ads during the primary’s final two weeks. Together Messrs. Trump and Thiel drew most late deciders into the Vance column. Without that one-two punch of endorsement and last-minute ad blitz, it’s likely someone else would be the GOP’s general-election standard-bearer," Rove wrote. "Still, while Mr. Trump’s endorsement made the critical difference, only 1 of 11 Ohio Republicans followed Mr. Trump’s call to fall in line as Mr. Vance’s share grew from 23% in the last pre-endorsement poll to 32% on Election Day. His 9% bump was overshadowed by the rise of Mr. Dolan, who nearly doubled his share of the vote after Mr. Trump announced his late-in-the-race endorsement. Almost 68% of Ohio Republicans ignored or rejected the former president’s call to join in his ‘Complete and Total Endorsement’ of Mr. Vance."


What the left is saying.

  • The left concedes it is a win for Trump, but criticizes Vance for what he is running on.
  • Many call out the brand of populism Vance is trying to sell as disingenuous.
  • Others say it is far too early to say how powerful Trump's endorsement was.

In The Daily Beast, Ben Burgis criticized Vance's "unbelievably phony populism."

"Vance is against Medicare for All. He’s against universal childcare. He doesn’t even want to raise the minimum wage," Burgis wrote. "These are pretty much the views you’d expect from a Yale-educated venture capitalist whose campaign is primarily financed by a libertarian Silicon Valley billionaire—but they’re an odd fit with his current image. Vance initially rose to fame in 2016 as the author of a bestselling book (Hillbilly Elegy) that, as Current Affairs editor Nathan J. Robinson put it, might as well have been called, 'How I Made It To Yale Even Though My Family Are Drug-Addicted Violent Wastrels Who Should Pull Themselves Up By Their Bootstraps.'

"Back then, he was a Romney-ish Never Trumper who wrote in USA Today that 'Trump’s actual policy proposals, such as they are, range from immoral to absurd.' He’s since apologized and abased himself to the former president—and was rewarded with Trump’s endorsement in the Ohio Senate race," Burgis wrote. "A glance through Vance’s campaign website shows that he’s trying very hard to project at least a general impression of populism. The site’s front page vaguely assails 'economic and government leaders' who do things that 'make life harder for ordinary Americans.' The phrase 'poverty rate' shows up in the second sentence of the 'Issues' page. There are whole sections devoted to the opioid crisis and the loss of industrial jobs. The phrase 'working class' even makes a few appearances. What’s missing is anything that even looks like a solution to these problems."

The Washington Post editorial board said the win is an ominous sign.

"Trump skeptic-turned-sycophant J.D. Vance won the Ohio GOP Senate primary on Tuesday, in what many deemed confirmation that former president Donald Trump holds an iron grip on the Republican Party. Mr. Vance’s rise is, indeed, an ominous sign for the GOP and the nation," the board wrote. "But it is too early to tell whether his brand of apocalyptic nationalism is truly ascendant. The irony of a Yale Law School graduate, New York Times bestselling author, Netflix producer and wealthy venture capitalist running a campaign against elites was apparently lost on Mr. Trump, who endorsed Mr. Vance, and large numbers of Ohio Republican primary voters. It is hard to decide whether it would be worse if Mr. Vance’s ideological turn was cynical or sincere.

"Either way, the radical philosophy he now espouses amounts to an outburst against reality and reason that, if acted upon, would have dire consequences for the country," they said. "In a chilling investigation of the 'new right' ecosystem in which Mr. Vance circulates, James Pogue notes in Vanity Fair that Mr. Vance wants Mr. Trump to retake the White House in 2024, fire the entire federal civil service and ignore courts when they deem these moves illegal — essentially, to execute a coup. He calls universities 'the enemy' and favors confiscating their endowments. In his recent campaigning, Mr. Vance has railed against aiding Ukraine in its struggle against a Russian invasion, which would commit the United States to the same sort of blinkered isolationism that proved calamitous in the run-up to World War II."

In Vox, Li Zhou, Nicole Narea and Christian Paz called Donald Trump a "winner" of the Ohio primary.

"Trump reportedly called himself a 'gambler' in his approach to endorsing primary candidates, many of whom weren’t necessarily favored when they got his endorsement. On Tuesday, the first of his big gambles paid off when Trump-backed candidate and Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance won the GOP nomination to replace retiring Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio," they wrote. "Polls prior to Trump’s endorsement had shown Vance middling in the seven-way race, but that late nod, plus an injection of cash from Vance backers, pushed Vance ahead.

"There was plenty for Trump to like along the way to this win: He blessed Vance just over two weeks ago, and prior to that, most of the field made private entreaties to Trump and publicly competed for who could align themselves most closely with the former president," they added. "Vance, previously a severe critic of Trump, spent months openly stating that he had been wrong about Trump... While Vance’s victory will help bolster Trump’s claim to be a kingmaker in the party, it’s not clear it will be predictive of other GOP primaries. Though Vance almost certainly wouldn’t have won without Trump, he didn’t win by a huge enough margin to draw any decisive conclusions."


My take.

The only clear thing about this primary is that it's a bad sign for Democrats.

There was low turnout on the Democratic side, a Trump-endorsed candidate won, and in a state that has become a battleground for competing populist views, it looks like all the momentum is on the right.

I've said many times in this newsletter that I don't think changing your mind or flip flopping should necessarily be a bad thing. On the contrary, people who never change their minds concern me: New experiences, new input and new information should produce different conclusions, and if you never change your mind it is probably a “you problem.”

The tough thing for me about J.D. Vance is that so much of his mind-changing seems to be cynical. He went from calling Trump "America's Hitler" and a "moral disaster" to kissing his feet just for an endorsement. It looks like political expediency, not genuine growth, so I struggle to get on board. I've watched his rise closely, and how his persona has shifted with the political winds. In the most basic terms, I don't have any clue what he really stands for, or what his values really are, other than a commitment to wading into every culture war and trying to make things worse. That being said, it’s not as if his opponents (like Josh Mandel, who was a tour de force of indecency) were much better.

What is most interesting about these results, though, is how easily they can be framed to fit your preferred narrative. On the one hand, Vance went from underdog to comfortable primary winner after Trump's endorsement. He won, and Trump — who isn't exactly known for letting go of grudges — looks politically mature in his decision to rally behind a Trump-esque populist who would be an ally in the Senate. In the most basic terms, Trump endorsed someone trailing in the polls and they won, so however you view this — you can't see it as anything but a win for the former president.

On the other hand, I think it’s fair to frame this the way Karl Rove did: Trump's endorsement in real terms only moved the needle by about nine percentage points. That means only one in 11 Ohio Republicans heeded the president's full throated endorsement and changed their vote. No matter how you slice it, though, a supermajority voted against the president's pick. And, in another high profile race, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a more traditional Republican who withstood relentless Trump attacks, handily won.

It appears the real test of Trump's power is still around the corner, with major competitive primary races in Pennsylvania and Georgia, two states that barely went blue in 2020. I have less clarity on those races after watching the results in Ohio, but I do know we'll have a much better understanding of Trump's power once we see the results of those races (and how Vance does in the general election).


Your questions, answered.

Q: Is it true that the United States has had the quickest and most robust economic recovery since the pandemic of any of our peer countries like the G7? And if so, why does it seem our government isn’t getting more credit for that recovery?

— Anonymous, Apple Valley, California

Tangle: Yes, this was mostly true. A year ago, the U.S. was being credited for driving not just the economic recovery here, but abroad, too. After the economy cratered during shutdowns, it grew by 5.7% in 2021 — the fastest year of growth since 1984. And it happened at a time when the European recovery was stagnating. That being said, the last five months have been much less encouraging. Around the turn of the new year, the global economic recovery began to slow, in part due to the Omicron variant. Now inflation continues to accelerate here in the U.S. and the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates (which could lead to a recession).

In the first quarter of 2022, the U.S. economy actually shrank at a 1.4 percent annual rate. That's the first such decline since the 2020 pandemic began, and was mostly attributed to a widening trade deficit (imports to the U.S. surged and exports fell). Businesses also invested less in inventory in Q1, and fading government stimulus almost certainly drove down growth. Still, it's worth noting that consumer spending actually rose in Q1, which is a good sign.

As for why our government isn't getting more credit, I think it's mostly because of the fact that inflation is overshadowing the recovery domestically. The growth came at a cost that a lot of Americans are feeling, and day-to-day conditions still don't seem much like the pre-pandemic "normal" for millions of folks. Despite so many traditionally great economic indicators like low unemployment and wage growth, etc., when the cost of goods go up, people notice.

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.


A story that matters.

President Joe Biden announced a partnership with 20 internet companies to provide discounted services to low income households. The program could make tens of millions of Americans eligible for free internet service under an existing federal subsidy. The money comes from the $1 trillion infrastructure package, which approved $14.2 billion for an Affordable Connectivity Program. That program includes a $30/month subsidy, and the Biden administration has now negotiated a plan with internet providers to lower costs to $30/month for 48 million households, effectively making the connection free for people signed up under the program. Internet speed will be 100 megabits per second, which is considered high-speed internet. The Associated Press has the story.


Numbers.

  • 340,991. The number of Ohio Republicans who voted for J.D. Vance in the Senate primary.
  • 718,122. The number of Ohio Republicans who voted for someone other than Vance.
  • 355,764. The number of Ohio Democrats who voted for Rep. Tim Ryan in the Senate primary.
  • 154,598. The number of Ohio Democrats who voted for someone other than Ryan.
  • 80%. Former President Trump's approval rating in Ohio, according to an April poll.

Have a nice day.

For the first time in 130 years, California condors have returned to Redwood National Park in Northern California. Four condors who were bred in captivity were released into the park last week, spreading their wings (which can grow to span nine and a half feet) and taking off in the early morning. “I am just overjoyed on this day,” Yurok Wildlife Department Director Tiana Williams-Claussen said on a livestream as the birds took off. The moment came after a lifetime raised in captivity where the birds learned to fly in "flight pens." Now, biologists are hoping they will once again thrive in the wilds of the redwood forests. The LA Times has the story.


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