J.D. Vance takes center stage ahead of Trump visit

By: - April 21, 2022 3:50 am

J.D. Vance with NewsMax host Rob Schmitt at a townhall in Delaware. Photo by Nick Evans, OCJ.

In Delaware Wednesday night J.D. Vance had the stage to himself, taking questions from voters in a townhall hosted by NewsMax. The event, at Ohio Wesleyan’s Chappelear Drama Center, landed right between him securing Donald Trump’s endorsement and the former president’s visit this weekend at the nearby county fairgrounds.

The organizers invited all five GOP frontrunners, but after a wave of previous get-togethers, the other candidates declined. Vance didn’t miss the opportunity to get a few digs in.

“I’m not afraid to talk to voters, and I’m not afraid to actually answer tough questions,” Vance told an audience member asking why she should cast a vote for him. “I think it’s pretty cowardly and pretty pathetic that nobody else decided to show up.”

But while his opponents ceded the stage, Vance’s GOP critics haven’t taken the Trump endorsement lying down. In a letter, 33 of Trump’s 2016 delegates and electors expressed a sense of “betrayal” that Trump would back “a political chameleon” like Vance.

“We are the original and proud ‘Trumpers’ who served as your delegates in Ohio when everybody was against you or supporting other candidates,” the letter states. “We are the ones you trusted to stand and deliver for you in 2016! And we did it for you against the Ohio Swamp and many in the establishment! We did it in the face of ‘Never Trumpers’ like JD Vance.”

Trump’s 2016 state director Rob Scott and electoral college elector Ralph King are leading the effort to convince Trump to reconsider.

Trump’s backing carried weight for some attendees Wednesday night, but not for others. Bill Orr and Janice Weinandy couldn’t care less.

“I’ve never let those types of endorsements influence me in the past,” Orr explained.

Lisa Giesler had been vacillating among the field even wishing she could put parts of them together into one candidate. Trump’s endorsement decided her, but she was a bit apologetic.

“I feel bad for the other people,” she said. “They spend so much money and time. I mean, it’s a hard thing, but I guess they know that when they go in.”

Jessica Miller decided to back Vance before the announcement, but she said it certainly didn’t hurt.

Townhall takeaways

The townhall format gave Vance a bigger bullhorn, but much of what he had to say reiterated points from previous debates. Vance railed at big tech censorship, got loud applause for his border plan, and stood firm on his skepticism of involvement in Ukraine.

On the issue of transgender participation in sports Vance took the party line in opposition. But instead of dismissing the idea that people can be trans, he offered the first glimpse of a potential bid to win over more moderate voters.

“Look, I’ve got friends of mine who have kids who are going through gender identity problems,” Vance said. “and they’ll be the first to tell you it’s unsafe, and it’s unreasonable to expect our young girls to participate against people who have been through puberty.”

Vance also addressed so-called “don’t say gay” legislation, zeroing in on the provision that teacher can’t address gender or sexual identity at all for grades K-3.

“We’re talking about 5, 6, 7, 8-year-old kids,” he said. “That seems like a pretty good idea. Right?”

Vance went on to explain that his son will be in kindergarten next year.

“My son wakes up and thinks that he’s a dinosaur, right?” Vance asked. “The idea that my son can engage in conversations that are that mature, is really ridiculous.”

Vance’s description of Florida’s legislation, of course, glosses over the much broader provision that any instruction be “age appropriate,” which the measure does not define.

His comments on Florida’s “don’t say gay” bill also showed how quickly lightning rod issues can muddy the political waters. Despite Republicans long defending corporate political spending as free speech, Vance applauded Florida Gov. Ron Desantis for threatening Disney’s special taxing district, arguing that the government should punish companies for engaging politics.

“They get a ton of special privileges, they get liability protections, they get subsidies,” Vance said. “We should be willing to cut that stuff off if these corporations are going to engage in politics. We’ve got to stop bribing people with our own money, who hate our values. It’s really that simple.

Separately Vance invoked common carrier status — effectively regulating an entity like a public utility — as a way to keep tech companies from regulating speech on their platforms. But the same status was revoked for internet service providers during the debate over net neutrality. Donald Trump’s FCC chairman, Ajit Pai led that charge.

Speaking after the townhall Vance shrugged off the inconsistency, arguing individual companies need to treat users fairly.

“I don’t want ISPs to be able to discriminate against conservatives, either. That’s not the main issue. The main issue is sort of the forward-facing companies,” he argued.

As for Trump’s endorsement, Vance chalked it up to debate performance.

“I think he sort of came to think that a lot of the other guys were just you know, sloganeering and talking points, and didn’t actually believe the things that they were saying,” Vance said.

And when it comes to the 30-odd Trump delegates asking the former president to reconsider, Vance made a bid for their support.

“One of the things I do when I win the primary, and even before,” he said, “is going to be you have to convince those people that I’m actually on their side, I’m on their team and that they should help me.”



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Nick Evans
Nick Evans

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.