Politics

Basic Honesty and Decency Almost Make Stirring Comeback in Ohio Republican Primary (but Don’t)

The story of their defeat involves a Tucker Carlson anecdote about a guy’s penis.

A picture of Ohio Republican Senate nominee J.D. Vance, Donald Trump, and Tucker Carlson
These guys won! Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images, Roy Rochlin/Getty Images, and Drew Angerer/Getty Images. 

Ah, well, that was close!

The Republican Senate primary in Ohio attracted national attention because so many of its participants kept behaving abominably. To a large extent that was thanks to the antics of perennial Ohio candidate Josh Mandel, who—spoiler—did not win. But it was also to a large extent because of J.D. Vance.

Vance, in addition to being the author of the hit memoir Hillbilly Elegy, is a multimillionaire investor in tech startups whose personal associations are such that he once hosted a fundraiser for a private school on the grounds of the estate owned by fashion-industry CEO Les Wexner, who is known for his longtime professional and financial relationship with Jeffrey Epstein. (Wexner has never been accused of involvement in sexual abuse.)

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Vance’s campaign was backed by a super PAC supported by $15 million in donations from Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, for whom Vance once worked. That is, according to Politico, the most ever given to support a single Senate candidate. Thiel, for his part, is known for having reportedly expressed an interest in the practice of injecting older people with younger people’s blood, as well as for suing Gawker.com out of existence because he didn’t like its coverage of him.

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Somehow, within this set of facts, Vance ran on the premise that someone ought to stick it to wealthy “elites,” particularly technology executives, because they are decadent creeps who are suppressing free speech and have reshaped the economy in a way that screws the working class. (He even, in a since-deleted tweet defending the plausibility of the QAnon conspiracy theory, brought up Epstein’s name.) He also argued the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump via “large-scale” voter fraud, apologized for having criticized Trump in the past, suggested Democrats are encouraging illegal immigration in order to “replace” existing Americans, and held a campaign event with Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene not long after she spoke at a white-power conference whose organizer’s own speech included an appreciative aside about Hitler.

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Then there was Matt Dolan. Dolan, a state senator whose father is the controlling owner of the the Cleveland Guardians baseball team, tried to run as someone who, despite being conservative, does not think the 2020 election was stolen or that Trump is an admirable person. Dolan appeared to be aware that this was a long shot. When I wrote about a candidate forum in November, the audience and the other candidates were so dismissive and contemptuous of Dolan that I wondered if he was running to fulfill some sort of contractual obligation related to his inheritance, like Billy Madison. At one point he was booed for beginning an answer about COVID with the observation that schools should protect children.

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Late in the campaign, though, Dolan’s strategy of being somewhat normal and concerned about issues that exist in observable reality, like gas prices, broke through. He began polling close enough to Vance (and Mandel) that it seemed possible he’d sneak through and win.

Nope! Vance had also jumped in the polls after receiving Trump’s endorsement in mid-April, and won the race on Tuesday. With nearly all votes counted, Vance has 32 percent to Mandel’s 24 percent and Dolan’s 23 percent.

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Trump was long known to be considering an endorsement of Mandel as well. According to a report in Rolling Stone, however, he was convinced to back Vance in part because of a phone call in which Fox News host Tucker Carlson initiated a conversation about a rumor that Mandel’s biggest outside supporter—the president of the Club for Growth organization—has a weird penis. For real: “The twice-impeached former president spent a notable amount of time gossiping and laughing about the prominent Republican’s penis and how ‘fucking disgusting’ and ‘fucking gross’ he allegedly was,” the magazine wrote. (On Twitter, the individual in question denied having a weird penis.)

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Trump also attacked Dolan because his family had changed the name of its baseball franchise from the Indians to the Guardians and eliminated the team’s red-faced cartoon mascot, “Chief Wahoo.” In a statement released last week, Trump said the decision to change the name suggested Dolan was “not fit to serve in the United States Senate.” Vance had previously made similar comments.

So, those guys won and Dolan lost; traditional small-business conservatism appears to be dead in the state that basically invented it. The Democrats’ nominee to run against Vance is avowedly working-class Rep. Tim Ryan, who’s already at work portraying Vance as a carpetbagging rich phony, but he’ll be fighting uphill against a MAGA movement whose leader just demonstrated his continuing relevance. As J.D. Vance might say at a private-school fundraiser, but probably not in public (anymore), c’est la vie!

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