On Tuesday night, author and first-time candidate J.D. Vance won the Ohio Republican Senate nomination, a victory that establishes him as the front-runner to win the general election this fall.
While victory has a thousand fathers, in this case it really had one: Donald Trump.
In mid-April, Vance, who rose to national fame as the author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” a massive best-seller, was languishing in the polls — hurt by a slew of ads run by his opponents that highlighted his past criticisms of Trump.
It seemed that his candidacy was beyond saving. Until, that is, Trump decided to wade into the race.
“It is time for the MAGA movement … to unite behind J.D.’s campaign because, unlike so many pretenders and wannabes, he will put America First,” Trump said in a statement announcing his endorsement.
Suddenly, Vance had momentum. He shot to the top of the Republican primary field — and that’s where he stayed.
Given the primacy of Trump’s endorsement to Vance’s victory, it’s worth understanding why Trump decided to pick Vance out of a lineup of candidates — all of whom were falling all over themselves to win the former President’s backing.
And we got a glimpse into Trump’s true thinking in a terrific Politico story published Tuesday night. Here’s the key bit:
“While his rivals relentlessly pursued Trump’s all-important endorsement with repeated trips to the former president’s Mar-a-Lago estate, Vance kept his distance after an early meeting — and ultimately won over the image-focused Trump anyway, with the former president privately telling Vance he had a ‘beautiful’ golf swing and was a ‘handsome son of a b—‘.”
Yup. That’s it.
Trump, as I’ve written recently, is very much drawn to celebrities — in politics and outside of it. He believes they are a special sort of people, better-looking and more successful because of some sort of inherent gifts they possess.
Remember, too, that Trump’s main lens on the world is television. He is drawn to people who look good and, to a lesser extent, sound good on TV.
This has long been so. Even before he was president, as he was sorting out who would serve in his Cabinet, Trump was often focused on looks over substance.
In a December 2016 Washington Post piece headlined, “Donald Trump is holding a government casting call. He’s seeking ‘the look,” these lines stand out:
“Donald Trump believes that those who aspire to the most visible spots in his administration should not just be able to do the job, but also look the part. …
“… The parade of potential job-seekers passing a bank of media cameras to board the elevators at Trump Tower has the feel of a casting call. It is no coincidence that a disproportionate share of the names most mentioned for jobs at the upper echelon of the Trump administration are familiar faces to obsessive viewers of cable news — of whom the president-elect is one.”
In selecting Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, Trump was drawn to the fact that the judge (and his wife) looked the part.
“Beyond the qualifications, what really matters is, does this nominee fit a central casting image for a Supreme Court nominee, as well as his or her spouse,” a Republican close to the White House told Politico at the time. “That’s a big deal. Do they fit the role?”
And when he nominated Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, Trump said that the judge looked like he came out of “central casting.”
Given all of that, it should surprise exactly no one that Trump ignored Vance’s past criticism of him — swayed by a smooth golf swing and looks. This is who Trump is. This is what he does.