Interview

‘Hillbilly Elegy’ Author JD Vance Confirms He’s Seriously Considering Senate Run In Ohio

   DailyWire.com
J.D. Vance, author of the book "Hillbilly Elegy," poses for a portrait photograph near the US Capitol building in Washington, D.C., January 27, 2017
Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post via Getty Images

News broke Monday that Silicon Valley billionaire Pete Thiel had dumped $10 million in a super PAC aimed at enticing “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance to run for the open Senate seat in Ohio. 

The report quickly sparked media buzz and speculation around the prospect of a Vance bid. The 36-year-old is still weighing his options but confirmed to The Daily Wire on Wednesday that he’s seriously thinking about a run. 

Vance, a Yale law school grad, became a staple in the political sphere when his memoir took off. “Hillbilly Elegy,” detailing Vance’s upbringing in the Appalachian regions of Kentucky and Middletown, Ohio, rife with chaos, poverty, and addiction, offered insight into the forgotten Americans living in the heartland for a shellshocked ruling class still baffled by Donald Trump’s 2016 win.

Such insight, of course, was quickly dismissed by our elites as Trump’s populism continues to rage on. 

Vance told The Daily Wire he doesn’t necessarily feel pressure to run for the seat but does feel it’s his duty to at least try to solve some of the issues he’s identified that are plaguing the American middle class — be that in the private or public sector. 

“These issues are very close to my heart,” Vance said. “At a very fundamental level, I want people to be able to achieve a middle class lifestyle if they’re hardworking, and for a lot of folks right now, it’s pretty hard to get by. It’s hard for complicated reasons; we’ve seen the decimation of the manufacturing base in Ohio and other parts of the country. I do think that these are really important problems — whether you work on them in the private sector or in the public, I certainly feel that it’s my obligation to give a little bit back. I mean, I’ve had a pretty fortunate life, here. I came from pretty tough circumstances, was raised by my grandparents, got to where I am now through some combination of luck and hard work and definitely feel a little bit like I’m obligated to at least try to solve some of these problems, though it’s definitely not just one person’s effort. “

Shaped by his upbringing, Vance takes on a much more Trump-aligned populist conservatism. Asked about which issues need to be addressed by the Republican Party, Vance identified immigration, America’s trade policy, and the lack of pro-family policy.  

“We have a crisis at the Southern border invited by the Biden administration’s policies,” Vance said. “If you want people to live a secure middle class lifestyle, I think one of the things you have to have is a border, because when you don’t have a border, you have meth and heroine coming into people’s communities, you have lower-wage immigrants competing for their jobs. Both from a material perspective — people want to have good jobs and good wages, but also just from being safe in their own communities.”

“Unfortunately,” Vance said, “COVID adds another dynamic to this, where people want to be safe in their health. We know that there are a lot of folks who are testing positive and getting released into American communities. That’s just not acceptable.”

On trade, Vance said our nation needs “a rational trade policy that protects American manufacturing jobs.”

“I don’t think there’s any country in the history of the world that’s had a viable, durable middle class unless it’s had a real manufacturing base. It’s important for national security reasons, but it’s also just important because those are the jobs that can support a growing and vibrant middle class. You can’t have a vibrant middle class if all of your jobs are in the service sector. I think that’s a profound and important takeaway from the rise of China … And this issue is much bigger than just China. The question is, are we going to make things in the United States and are we going to employ our people at making them. And I think the answer to that question just has to be yes.” 

“One of the tasks for the Republican Party is to turn the grassroots energy around protecting American manufacturing jobs into a longterm policy agenda that can accomplish that,” he added.

The last issue Vance identified was establishing pro-family policy. 

“The way that I push this question is, if you’re making $50,000, or $100,000, or $400,000 and you have three kids, you should pay a lower tax rate than if you’re making the same income and you don’t have any kids,” Vance asserted. 

“I think our policy for too long has ignored that you don’t have a country if you don’t have the next generation. You can’t just import the next generation, and you can’t just pretend it’s gonna come from somewhere else. You have to home-grow it internally. People feel differently, obviously, about their own kids than they do other people. And if you have an entire generation of Americans who are not having children, then I think the country is just gonna be really unstable.” 

Some on the Left, of course, have argued the opposite; that the next generation can, indeed, be imported. 

“I get this argument all the time from people on the Left: ‘Well, you should just want immigrants to become the next generation, and if we’re not having high enough birthrates, then you just need to import the next generation.’ I think that that’s the sort of argument you make if you haven’t thought at all about what conservatives are arguing about this issue,” Vance explained. 

“Just think about the effect that my kids — I have a three-year-old and a one-year-old — have on me, the way that they force me to be invested in my community, the way they force me to make tradeoffs in my work life, in my personal life, the way that they bring people closer to their extended families. Children are a good thing, and we should want more of them.”

“Now, I don’t have anything against a 35-year-old guy who wants to come to America and work — we can’t let in everybody, and that’s an important point — but that immigrant, I just don’t have the same relationship to that person,” he said. “It has nothing to do with any of the slanders that the Left tries to throw at us, it’s just: that’s not my kid; that’s not my family.”

“The idea that you can build a nation off of strangers instead of off of children is just totally insane. I think anybody who actually has thought about this issue realizes how crazy it is. What is the transmission of values from one generation to the next? How do we teach our kids to love both their past, but to be invested in their future? That happens in the family unit. That doesn’t happen from two strangers who maybe work together or see each other passing by on the street, that happens through families.” 

“If you don’t have healthy families, I think it’s worth saying again, you just don’t have a real country.” 

Vance is also a supporter of unions, pinpointing the breakdown of communities in combination with globalization as a large contribution to the heartlands’ struggles. The Yale grad argued that conservatives should rethink their position on unions while suggesting vital reforms to break through the modern “hyper woke” union standard. 

“I think conservatives should appreciate that, historically, often labor unions were really on their side on a lot of these questions,” he offered, referencing pro-American worker immigration policies. 

“And I think the unfortunate part is that union participation has become so low that it’s just totally insignificant,” Vance continued. “The existing labor unions that are out there have just become hyper ‘woke’ that they’re actually not in any real sense differentiated from the Democratic Party leadership.”

“I think that one thing we have to do as conservatives is to, one, figure out how to give American workers real bargaining power so that they can push back against immigration policies that undercut their wages, so they can push back against globalization as an organized force. But, also, you know, reform the labor union laws so that workers are actually represented by their unions and the unions aren’t just representing the woke interest of the Democratic Party.”

“That is a challenging area of reform,” Vance admitted. “You can’t just say, well, we want to throw everybody into the existing labor union infrastructure, because I think if you do that, you’re going to have a real problem where your workers don’t actually have their interests protected.”

“But I think if you do this smartly and you reform our labor laws in such a way where unions have to really stand up for the interests of their workers, that I think they could become real allies of the right,” he continued. “I think that union households are voting for Republicans more than they’re voting for Democrat now, and this is just an important political constituency for us to continue to cultivate and for us to continue to build on.”

The Daily Wire asked Vance about what it is that the elites still miss most often, even after an autopsy of the 2016 election. 

“There’s a lot,” the author qualified his response. 

“I think that this is something, especially the folks on the Left, but even maybe folks on the more establishment Right, miss, is that people really care about their country,” Vance said. “And it’s not a trite thing.” 

“People might think that it’s big Ford trucks and flag-waving, that’s all patriotism really is, it’s just this skin-deep consumerism, and it’s really not,” he explained. “People teach their kids about World War II; they show their kids pictures of grandparents, great-grandparents, parents who fought in American wars; they take their kids to patriotic events, to parades and things like that.”

“And if you’re on the Left, I think people see the American nation as this like fundamentally corrupt thing, and they don’t understand why workers love it. And the answer is workers love it because it’s theirs and because it was their family’s and because it will be their children’s. And they can recognize that there are some faults in a way the country is governed, but at a fundamental level, this is people’s homes, and they want to defend it.”

“I think that basic patriotic defensive home instinct is something that a lot of American liberals really miss,” he said. “They see it either as a xenophobia or jingoism, and they don’t recognize that it has real power. And, frankly, a lot of the big moments where American workers have really done well in this country, it’s been because they’ve marshaled the American nation behind them. That’s an important fact to realize, that very often the biggest counterweight to corporate power has been the American country in the American political system.”

“There are a couple of just really weird figures in American political history that I think the modern American Left doesn’t know what to do with, and one of them is Huey Long, the Southern populist Democrat. And if you listen to Huey Long speeches, you would say it sounds like he’s an economic populist; he sounds very much like he’s of the Democratic Party. But if you keep listening to him, you realize that Huey Long really loved his country. He loved the people who lived in it. And I think unless you have that basic sense of pride of place, it’s going to be really hard to appeal to the American working and middle class — that’s true for white workers, black workers, and Latino workers, and it’s frankly one of the reasons that President Trump did so well among Latinos and blacks in 2020.”

The elites “actually disdained the people that occupy the country that they run,” he emphasized later in the interview, “and they have no real interest in changing their views or getting to know their country a little bit better, and that’s just a toxic and pretty dangerous combination.”

Vance also took issue with language policing by the ruling class. “Working and middle-class folks that I know, they really, really resent the language policing that’s happening in elite discourse these days,” he said. 

“They really don’t like this idea that you can’t talk about a political issue unless you talk about it in the ‘right way’; that there are constantly new terms that you have to use to identify things that five or ten years ago, you had to use a totally different term. I think a lot of people recognize, instinctively, that what this does is it blocks them from polite discourse.”

“If you can’t talk about the issues that matter in the way that is natural to you, at a fundamental level, you’re being deprived of your right to participate in American democracy,” asserted Vance. “And people get that, and they don’t like to be told that they have to use some new word to describe a Latino person … if they want to talk about illegal immigration, they’re not allowed to say illegal immigration. If your’e tone-policing people, you’re not dealing with the substance of their concerns. I think a lot of working middle-class Americans recognize.”

“So much of the modern Left is tone-policing because if they argue on the substance, they’re going to lose,” he added.

Vance, who grew up in poverty, was asked his thoughts on the “right way” to show compassion to those struggling economically. 

“I think it’s to treat people like adults,” he said. “People recognized on the one hand, life can be unfair and that life can be hard, while on the other hand, still recognizing that whatever hand you were dealt you still got to try to make something of yourself.”

“I think that too often people on the Right ignore the fact that there are real hardships out there, and we’ve got to make life as easy for people as we can,” he said. “And people on the Left too often want to treat people as these sort of like, completely without agency animals who are victims of social forces beyond their control, and if you’re not giving them the right government support they’re not going to have any chance at life. And that’s just not how most people think of their lives.”

“I think of my grandma and the way that she talked about the struggles of our own life, and she would always say, you know, things are harder for us than those people. We’re poor people. She wanted me to understand that was part of our identity, that we had gone through some real hardships. But it was never, we’re poor, therefore you should give up on yourself. Or, we’re poor, therefore life doesn’t have any meaning or there’s no hope in the future. It was always, you know, we’re poor and we’re just going to have to work harder and deal with it.”

And I think that that kind of old-fashioned American instinct that you can both recognize things are tough for some people, while also encouraging them to achieve the best for themselves and their families, is just totally missing from American public life these days,” Vance explained. “It’s either you treat everybody as a victim with no control over their life or we want to ignore that some people do really have tough lives. Luckily, most Americans have much more common sense about it than I think our political leaders and media media folks.”

“What advice would you give to kids in poverty?” he was asked. 

“My advice to kids is always one, don’t forget where you came from, because it’s a real source of strength,” he answered. “And don’t give up on yourself just because your life is hard; don’t pretend your life isn’t hard, don’t ignore the fact that it is, but don’t give up on yourself just because your life is hard.”

“I think that it’s an important message for kids to learn, that the future isn’t hopeless just because you haven’t been given everything on a silver platter. And the flip side of it, don’t forget your roots, because those are the people I meet who are most grounded.”

“I used to sometimes be resentful that life was harder for me when I was a kid,” Vance said, “I now really appreciate it because I don’t think that I’d have the same perspective I do now.”

Related: J.D. Vance | The Ben Shapiro Show Sunday Special Ep. 109

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