J.D. Vance’s Imitation Campaign

Donald Trump’s last-minute endorsement of J.D. Vance in Ohio’s Republican Senate primary was a big win for the social science experiment Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel is conducting in our state.

Thiel, a founder of PayPal and federal Big Data contractor Palantir, donated an unprecedented $10,000,000 to a super PAC for Vance last spring. After successfully lobbying Trump to endorse Vance, Thiel gave the Alexandria, Virginia-based “Protect Ohio Values” PAC another $3.5 million to seal the deal.

Update, 5/9/2022: Just saw today that Thiel donated another $1.5 million to his Vance super PAC before the primary, which means Thiel spent a total of FIFTEEN MILLION DOLLARS buying Vance one of Ohio’s Senate seats.

Vance’s ties to Thiel run deep. After graduating from Yale Law, Vance worked for Thiel’s venture capital firm in San Francisco. Vance’s current firm, Narya Capital, is funded by Thiel. And, when Vance joined the Roman Catholic Church in 2019, he name-dropped one of Thiel’s favorite philosophers among his reasons for doing so.

The late French philosopher René Girard is known for his “mimetic theory,” which posits that – as summarized by a Thiel Foundation program dedicated to its application – “imitation is the fundamental mechanism of human behavior.”

In the likely event that Vance wins the primary, Thiel’s aggressive promotion of his candidacy will be the main reason. Vance diligently applied mimetic theory to help Thiel secure Trump’s endorsement.

It’s no accident that Vance mirrors Tucker Carlson’s furrowed brow while praising Trump and inveighing against “the oligarchy” in interviews with Carlson and Steve Bannon, who are both friends of Thiel. It’s not a coincidence that Vance dresses the same as Trump’s son on the campaign trail, and irritates his old friends in the mainstream media by pandering to Marjorie Taylor Greene.

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Even with $10 million from Thiel in a super PAC months before declaring his candidacy, Vance started at a disadvantage. Opponents had a wealth of Vance video clips and tweets to use hammering home the fact that Vance, a former contributor to CNN and The New York Times, got famous by criticizing Trump. “I’m a Never Trump guy,” Vance said during a PBS interview weeks before the 2016 election. “I never liked him.”

Vance attacked Trump’s personality and the campaign promises Vance himself now touts in TV ads and stump speeches with Donald Trump, Jr. If Vance was imitating any prominent political figure in 2016, it was former Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

In a column for The Atlantic trashing Trump senior’s promises to “cure the addiction epidemic by building a Mexican wall” and “bring jobs back simply by punishing offshoring companies,” Vance wrote, “He never offers details for how these plans will work, because he can’t. Trump’s promises are the needle in America’s collective vein.”

Several months after writing that Atlantic piece, Vance announced he was moving back to Ohio. “Jai Chabria, who after 20 years as a top adviser to Ohio Gov. John Kasich moved into private practice this year, is helping Vance navigate this process,” The Washington Post noted.

More than a longtime adviser to Kasich, Chabria was the architect of Kasich ’16. Chabria brought disgraced Lincoln Project cofounder John Weaver aboard Kasich’s super PAC in 2015, and helped Weaver run the campaign before taking an Ohio GOP job to try to swing the convention to Kasich.

“I’m a Kasich partisan. I have been my whole life,” Chabria told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I will make sure anything I do advances his career.”

In January 2017, Columbus Monthly reported on a meet-and-greet Chabria had organized for Vance with “a diverse group of Columbus leaders,” ostensibly to network for a nonprofit Vance and Chabria cofounded.

Within six months of renting a home in Columbus, Vance was lobbying against Obamacare repeal to save Kasich’s Medicaid expansion, and Chabria was talking to Buzzfeed about a potential Vance Senate campaign in 2018. But then news came out that Vance was ineligible because he was a resident of Washington, D.C.

Vance’s partnership with Chabria – who remains his top strategist – indicates he moved back to Ohio to run for office as a Kasich Republican. When Trump won Ohio by the same 8-point margin in 2020 as in 2016, Vance didn’t change his plans; he changed his entire persona.

Assuming Vance wins today, voters will get to choose in November between a central planner who is pro-Obamacare and pro-union… or a Democrat. An awfully silly scenario in what’s shaping up to be a red wave election.

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With Peter Thiel in his corner, imitating people Donald Trump likes was enough for J.D. Vance to win over Donald Trump. Will that be enough to win him a Senate seat?