It’s well known that JD Vance — Donald Trump’s endorsed candidate in the Ohio Republican primary for U.S. Senate — was no fan of the former president just a few years back. Vance’s past quotes practically write his opponents’ attack ads for them. But the truth isn’t enough in political campaigns.
In a TV ad, Club for Growth Action, a super PAC whose sister organization has endorsed Josh Mandel in the race, employs only part of a Vance quote, leaving the misleading impression that Vance made a sweeping generalization that Trump voters were “racist.” In fact, Vance agreed with the premise that “some” had “racist reasons” for voting for Trump. He went on to say “the thing that really motivated people to vote for Trump … was three words — jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Back in 2016, Vance publicly opposed Trump. He even said, in a since-deleted tweet a few weeks before the election, that he would vote for independent candidate Evan McMullin. Author of the book “Hillbilly Elegy,” which became a Netflix film, Vance told Bloomberg’s Charlie Rose in October 2016, “I’m a Never Trump guy. I never liked him.” (See the 17:15 mark of the video.)
The Club for Growth Action ad (shown below, courtesy of Kantar Media) uses the “Never Trump guy” quote. But it goes on to show Vance saying: “People who voted for Trump voted for him for racist reasons.” A man in the ad then says, “Where does he get off saying that?”
That’s not exactly what Vance said.
Here’s the full quote from the Feb. 3, 2017, appearance at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, where Vance said that “racial animus … wasn’t what a lot of his [Trump’s] voters were really connecting with.”
Interviewer Alex Kotlowitz: And where do you think race played into all of this? Because I think the sort of myth is, you know, all these Trump supporters are vehement racists and anti immigrant. And so where do you think it played in?
Vance: Race definitely played a role in the 2016 election. I think that race will always play a role in our country. It’s just sort of a constant fact of American life. And definitely some people who voted for Trump were racist, and they voted for him for racist reasons. I always resist the idea that the real thing driving most Trump voters was racial anxiety or racial animus partially because I didn’t see it, right. I mean, the thing that really motivated people to vote for Trump, first in the primary, and then in the general election was three words — jobs, jobs, jobs, right.
And it’s very easy to get back to this point about information bubbles. It’s very easy for somebody like me to watch the sources of news that I watch and to only see the really offensive stuff that Trump did, replayed over and over again. But if you go to one of his rallies, it’s maybe 5% him being really outrageous and offensive, and 95% him talking about here are all the things that are wrong in your community, here’s why they’re wrong. And I’m going to bring back jobs. That was the core thesis of Trump’s entire argument. And so, it’s just, it strikes me as a little bizarre to chalk it up to sort of racial animus because one, the country is less racist now than it was 15 years ago, and we weren’t electing Donald Trump 15 years ago, and two, that’s just, that wasn’t the core part of his message. And that wasn’t what a lot of his voters were really connecting with.
So, Vance agreed “some” Trump voters were racists, but by editing the quote, the TV ad leaves the impression that Vance was speaking broadly about Trump’s supporters. The man’s angry reaction in the ad reinforces that impression.
A Club for Growth spokesman told PolitiFact that he disagreed that the editing of Vance’s words changed their meaning.
Another TV ad from the group attacking Vance actually uses a fuller quote from the remarks, with Vance saying, “Definitely some people who voted for Trump … they voted for him for racist reasons.”
That ad makes it look as if Vance were responding to PBS’ Judy Woodruff, who asked Vance in a September 2016 interview: “We have been paying attention to something Hillary Clinton said in describing Donald Trump’s followers. She called them a basket of deplorables. Is there something to what she said, or is she completely off-base?”
Again, Vance said some of Trump’s support is rooted in racism, but not a lot of it. “Well, I think it’s probably both,” Vance responded. “There are definitely — there is definitely an element of Donald Trump’s support that has its basis in racism or xenophobia. But a lot of these folks are just really hardworking people who are struggling in really important ways.”
He continued: “And when Hillary Clinton says something like that, it strikes me that she’s pushing people away from what she wants them to get out of her message. And if you think, as I do, that Donald Trump doesn’t necessarily have a good message either, that’s maybe not the best approach to politics. It’s not how you win these folks over. And if you’re worried about them being racist now, when you push them away and push them to somebody like Trump, you’re only going to make the problem worse.”
Vance has since disavowed the negative things he said about Trump, and among a crowded field vying for Trump’s endorsement, Vance is the one who secured it. “I regret being wrong about the guy,” Vance said last summer. “I think he was a good president, I think he made a lot of good decisions for people, and I think he took a lot of flak.”
The Republican primary is on May 3.
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