Among the more puzzling features of Trumpism is its ability to provoke self-abasement in the previously proud and self-respecting. The list of those who have prostrated themselves before former President Donald J. Trump is long (I don’t include Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina here; he was never self-respecting), but the honor roll surely includes his vice president, Mike Pence.
The sanctimonious Pence, who has vowed never to eat alone with a woman other than his wife, nevertheless has been a vociferous defender of the adulterer who paid hush money to a porn star. Then there is Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. During the 2016 campaign, Trump mocked Cruz’s wife and falsely linked his father to the assassination of President John Kennedy. Yet, few are more flattering of Trump now than Cruz.
And let’s not forget Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whom Trump dubbed “Little Marco.” He belittled everything from Rubio’s ears to his academic attainment. But Rubio licked Trump’s boots enough to earn his endorsement in Rubio’s campaign to retain his Florida Senate seat.
The newest entry to this odd club is bestselling author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance, who has announced his campaign for the Republican nomination for an Ohio Senate seat. Like many thinking conservatives, Vance was a Trump critic in 2016. He announced the reasons for his antipathy, calling Trump “reprehensible” and denouncing his policy proposals as ranging from “immoral to absurd.” Vance tweeted that he would vote for Evan McMullin, who ran as an Independent.
The most ironic of Vance’s tweets was this one from March 2017: “In 4 years, I hope people remember that it was those of us who empathized with Trump’s voters who fought him the most aggressively.” The irony lies in the fact that, as Vance began his Senate campaign, he was hoping that people would forget. He deleted those tweets and went to Mar-a-Lago to beg for Trump’s forgiveness. He went on Fox News to profess his “regret” for opposing Trump.
Hypocrisy among public officials is hardly the stuff of headlines, but it was once the case that politicians worked hard to keep their lies a secret and to execute subtle reversals on policy and positions. It was rare to see the sort of reverse triple somersault that Vance is attempting. If he has any values other than self-advancement, he has successfully concealed them.
That’s too bad. Unlike some readers, I found Vance’s memoir, “Hillbilly Elegy,” illuminating. Many liberal critics thought the book was just another exercise in blaming the poor for their circumstances, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt. While I disagreed with many of his policy prescriptives, I respected the hard work he put in to climb out of his dysfunctional childhood. I thought he might have policies to offer that would help others.
But he has made it clear that he only wishes to help himself — integrity and honor be damned. Vance is already wealthy. After Yale Law School and a brief stint at a corporate law firm, he went to Silicon Valley, eventually taking a position at the venture capital firm started by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.
Like so many wealthy white men, Vance now wants power. And like others who have groveled at Trump’s throne, Vance doesn’t seem to care how he acquires it. Men such as him simply cannot be trusted.
To watch all of this is to understand just how far the Republican Party, once the party of Abraham Lincoln, has sunk into a fetid swamp of racism, sexism, xenophobia and corruption.
This is the party that not only has vowed to block anything the Biden administration tries to accomplish, but also has rejected an investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection. Remember when Republicans insisted they backed the police? Not if those were Capitol police officers who risked their lives to protect members of Congress from violent Trump supporters.
The GOP is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the Trump Organization, which has adopted graft as one of its defining principles. From here, it is hard to see how the party can reclaim anything that resembles integrity or decency.
Cynthia Tucker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007.