Republican Establishment Scared: J.D. Vance’s Trump-like Effect

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If J.D. Vance follows his Tuesday night victory in Ohio’s Senate primary with a general election win in November, he’ll arrive in a Washington filled with enemies and be seen as arguably the hardest-edged populist nationalist in the Senate GOP.

Why it matters: The Republican establishment privately regards Vance with the same disgust many felt toward Donald Trump when he entered the White House on Jan. 20, 2017.

The big picture: Vance’s victory deals a body blow to a small but noticeable resurgence of anti-Trump — or post-Trump — sentiment in the GOP.

  • Republican Trump critics staked their hopes on state Sen. Matt Dolan, who accused Trump of peddling “lies” about fraud in the 2020 election and blamed him for the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol.
  • But even with four solidly pro-Trump candidates in the race — JD Vance, Josh Mandel, Mike Gibbons and former Ohio GOP chair Jane Timken — Dolan was unable to marshal a plurality.

What they’re saying: Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich said Vance “put in tremendous work and has immense political talent — which put him in the position to earn the support of President Trump,” but added that it was Trump’s endorsement that propelled Vance to victory.

  • “The power of President Trump’s endorsement is undeniable, his dominance over the Republican powerbrokers in D.C. cannot be overstated, and the promise of this MAGA Movement will not just define the midterms, but it will win for years to come,” Budowich told Axios.
  • Vance’s key strategists were Andy Surabian, advising on national politics, and Jai Chabria, steering the Ohio operation.

Between the lines: Amid a wave of retirements by more traditional Republican senators such as Ohio’s Rob Portman, Alabama’s Richard Shelby and Missouri’s Roy Blunt, Vance could be one of a handful of Republicans reshaping the ideological makeup of McConnell’s conference.

  • Vance has made statements on the campaign trail that have repulsed establishment Republicans, including members of the Senate leadership. Major Republican donors — including the powerful Club for Growth — spent millions trying to defeat him.
  • He won a crowded GOP primary running on a position that directly opposes most Senate Republicans — including Minority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) — on one of the major issues of the day: the Russia-Ukraine war.

By Jonathan Swan and Lachlan Markay

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