On paper, Peter Thiel associate and Hillbilly Elegist J.D. Vance, the former venture capitalist, has changed dramatically since 2016: He's a onetime Trump critic who maneuvered his way into Trump's good graces, a Yale Law graduate who now rails against elite universities, and an erstwhile media darling who lambasts the media.
The current frontrunner of tomorrow's GOP Ohio primary for Senate, Vance has also become the political press's latest object of fascination. In recent months, a profusion of Vance profiles has sprouted, each seeking to pinpoint the exact moment when he changed from an anti-Trumper to another Trump endorsee thundering against "wokeness," transgender people, and democracy.
My favorite explanation of Vance's startling ideological shift comes from a Washington Post profile published in January. According to one of the author's best friends from law school, the "last straw" for Vance was the poor reception that the Netflix adaptation of his memoir received from critics:
When the “Hillbilly Elegy” movie came out on Netflix in 2020, it was not just critically panned but greeted with intense online mockery, and the tenuous cultural diplomacy achieved by the book seemed to unravel for good. (Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 83 percent. Critics’ score: 25 percent.) According to Vance’s best friend from Yale, Jamil Jivani, the wounding commentary was the “last straw” in his falling-out with elites.
Imagine picking Trumpism because of a graphic of a green splat.
—Noah Y. Kim