Trump endorses 'Never Trump guy' JD Vance, ignoring many Ohio Republicans who wanted him to pick a different candidate in a key Senate race

Trump endorses 'Never Trump guy' JD Vance, ignoring many Ohio Republicans who wanted him to pick a different candidate in a key Senate race
Jeffrey Dean/AP Photo
  • Trump endorsed "Hillbilly Elegy" author JD Vance in a closely contested Ohio GOP Senate race.
  • The former president's backing comes despite a last-minute campaign to convince him to support someone else.

Former President Donald Trump endorsed his one-time critic J.D. Vance on Friday, backing the "Hillbilly Elegy" author and venture capitalist even after top Ohio Republicans tried to convince him not to endorse him.

"With J.D. Vance, Ohio gets both brains and brawn. Ohio has been good to me, I won it twice, really BIG, and I have likewise been GREAT for Ohio. Let's keep it going!" Trump said in a statement.

As news of Trump's impending endorsement leaked, Ohio Republicans mounted a last-minute effort to get the former president to change his mind. Dozens of local GOP officials sent a letter to Trump, obtained by Politico, listing off the scorching anti-Trump comments Vance had made in the past.

"While we were working hard in Ohio to support you and Make America Great Again, JD Vance was actively working against your candidacy," the letter said, adding Vance did not support Trump in 2016 and saying "he referred to your supporters as 'racists.'"

As the letter pointed out, Vance was a frequent Trump critic. On CNN, Vance said that Trump's 2016 campaign was "actively antagonizing a lot of the Black voters." On Twitter, Vance later touted his support for independent candidate Evan McMullin in the general election. Or as Vance once put it to Charlie Rose, "I'm a Never Trump guy."


"Like some others, J.D. Vance may have said some not so great things about me in the past, but he gets it now, and I have seen that in spades," Trump said. "He is our best chance for victory in what could be a very tough race."

Vance said he was "incredibly honored" to have Trump's support.

"He was an incredible fighter for hard working Americans in the White House, he will be again, and I'll fight for the America First Agenda in the Senate," Vance wrote on Twitter.

Vance is involved in a hotly contested Republican Senate primary. Independent polling of the race has been sparse, but it shows Vance is far from running away with the nomination.

The most recent Fox News poll conducted in early March showed businessman Mike Gibbons (22%) and former state Treasurer Josh Madel (19%) locked in a virtual dead heat. Vance (11%) was either in third or fourth with a too close to call margin between him and former Ohio GOP chair Jane Timken (9%). Timken herself was within the margin of error of State Sen. Matt Dolan (7%). The poll had a plus/minus 3% margin of error.


Trump's decision to back Vance fits with a frequent trend of granting endorsements to candidates that are often outside the GOP establishment and may not have ever held elected office. Sometimes this works out well for the former president. Then-Rep. Ron DeSantis was not the legacy-favored GOP pick before Trump endorsed him. Now, DeSantis' star is so bright that he might even challenge Trump in 2024.

But other times, it has risked Trump's political brand.

This cycle the former president has already had to yank his backing from Rep. Mo Brooks, an Alabama Senate candidate who never caught fire after Trump's early endorsement. While the former president has rankled some Pennslyvania Republicans by endorsing Dr. Mehmet Oz. It doesn't help matters that Trump's first pick in the key Pennsylvania US Senate race, Sean Parnell, dropped out amid claims that he abused his estranged wife.

Trump takes his endorsements seriously and how his favored-picks fare will be a key storyline as the 2022 midterm elections unfold. Republicans are hopeful that they can retake Congress, but as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has warned the GOP's past nomination of flawed candidates ultimately doomed their chances at the Senate majority in 2010 and 2012.