Vance becomes the center of VP speculation amid internal GOP schism on foreign aid

After winning an election during the 2022 midterms with Trump’s backing, Vance emerged as a leading opponent of the Biden administration’s handling of the war in Ukraine.

Published: April 24, 2024 11:06pm

Formerly a critic of former President Donald Trump, Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, has emerged as one of his most prominent supporters, acting as a veritable proxy for Trump within the Senate GOP on matters of foreign policy and feuding with old-guard Republican stalwarts.

After winning election during the 2022 midterms with Trump’s backing, Vance emerged as a leading opponent of the Biden administration’s handling of the war in Ukraine and as a critic of the multi-billion aid packages to Kyiv. He later advocated against a combined package of aid to Ukraine, Israel, and the Indo-Pacific region.

That position placed him at odds with much of the Senate GOP, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Vance’s position, moreover, is generally regarded as more in line with that of Trump, whose “America First” worldview has generally lent itself to foreign aid skepticism and the prioritization of domestic issues.

His elevated profile amid the rows with his colleagues and his alignment with Trump over his fellow upper chamber Republicans has further prompted major news outlets and pundits across the political spectrum to suggest he could serve as Trump’s running mate during the 45th president’s 2024 campaign.

Not discussed serving as vice president

Trump has kept his vice-presidential search somewhat close to the vest, though a multitude of candidates have emerged as potential selections, among them Vance, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., former Democratic Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, and a handful of others.

Vance, for his part, cast doubt on his chances of selection earlier this month, telling Fox News’s Laura Ingraham that he had not discussed serving as vice president with Trump, but that his aim was to support Trump’s political agenda in the manner to which he was best suited.

"I've never actually spoken to the president about VP speculation. My simple answer is, I wanna help him however I can," he said at the time. "I'm also happy to support the agenda in the United States Senate, and regardless, Laura, you have to remember, my job is to serve the people of Ohio, whether it's supporting Trump's agenda in the Senate, or serving in some other role."

Vance was previously a Trump critic

The Ohio lawmaker achieved nationwide recognition with his memoir “Hillbilly Elegy” and initially waded into politics as a “Never Trump” figure. He ultimately pivoted to supporting Trump and earned his endorsement in the Ohio Republican Senate primary in 2022.

The former president addressed Vance’s prior criticisms when making the endorsement, saying "like some others, J.D. Vance may have said some not so great things about me in the past, but he gets it now, and I have seen that in spades."

After Trump’s endorsement, Vance surged in the crowded primary contest, claimed the Republican nomination, and went on to defeat Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan in the general contest. He replaced the retiring GOP Sen. Rob Portman.

His Ukraine position has put him at the forefront of a key fight in Congress

Vance articulated his position on Ukraine aid in an early April op-ed for the New York Times, in which he highlighted the disparities between the American capacity to produce war materials and the volume Kyiv claims will be necessary to achieve success on the battlefield.

The op-ed specifically addressed a push from the Biden administration for Congress to approve roughly $60 billion in aid to Ukraine.

“Ukraine’s challenge is not the G.O.P.; it’s math. Ukraine needs more soldiers than it can field, even with draconian conscription policies. And it needs more matériel than the United States can provide,” he wrote at the time. “This $60 billion is a fraction of what it would take to turn the tide in Ukraine’s favor. But this is not just a matter of dollars. Fundamentally, we lack the capacity to manufacture the amount of weapons Ukraine needs us to supply to win the war.”

“We’ve roughly doubled our capacity and can now produce 360,000 [155 mm artillery shells] per year — less than a tenth of what Ukraine says it needs,” he went on. “The administration’s goal is to get this to 1.2 million — 30 percent of what’s needed — by the end of 2025. This would cost the American taxpayers dearly while yielding an unpleasantly familiar result: failure abroad.”

A more reserved approach

In opposition to McConnell, who remains the face of the foreign policy hawks in the Senate GOP, Vance has become the face of the group backing a more reserved approach to foreign policy.

Speaking to The Hill earlier this week, Vance contended that, though much of the Senate GOP remains committed to prior foreign policy orthodoxies, sentiment within the Republican Party is shifting toward his view.

“Europe needs to step up and the United States needs to focus on Asia. Notwithstanding some lingering cold warriors, we’re winning the debate because reality is on our side,” he said.

But those “lingering cold warriors” remain quite energetic and are still fighting against the shift in Republican outlook. Over the weekend, Sen. Lindsey Graham sharply criticized Vance during an appearance on Fox News, taking exception to what he called his colleague’s “garbage” assertion that the U.S. cannot adequately supply Ukraine.

“I just got back from being there two weeks ago. They changed their conscription laws. They have all the manpower they need. They need the weapons,” he said. “I challenge J.D. Vance to go to Ukraine and get a briefing from the Ukrainian military and talk with Ukrainian people, then tell me what you think.”

He has defended Trump

Vance’s disputes over foreign aid, however, have also seen him take aim at colleagues in the lower chamber, namely House Speaker Mike Johnson and his leadership team.

Before Johnson unveiled a plan to vote on key foreign aid bills that effectively broke up a prior Senate-passed foreign aid package, Vance fumed over rumors that the House would make such a move, calling it a “betrayal” and “stupid politics.”

The House ultimately did move a package of bills similar to what Vance described, earning rebuke from Donald Trump Jr., who shared a supercut of Johnson sharing his prior position of securing the U.S. border before that of Ukraine.

Vance echoed Trump Jr.’s criticisms and appeared to speak on Trump’s behalf, criticizing Johnson for what he deemed the assertion that the former president supported his actions.

“I’m certainly bothered by it. Perhaps Mike Johnson should stop going on TV and telling the world that Donald Trump endorses every piece of his ridiculous betrayal,” Vance said.

Trump himself did not take direct aim at Johnson and instead questioned European hesitance to commit greater aid to Kyiv. He did, however, in a Truth Social post, remind his supporters that "I am the only one who speaks for ‘ME.’”

Vance later shared a screenshot of Trump’s post to X, saying “A lot of wisdom here from President Trump. Notably, he reminds everyone that he speaks for himself. It would be nice if the America Last caucus stopped dragging his name through the dirt to defend their unpopular supplemental.”

A Trump-Vance ticket?

Vance is the junior senator from Ohio, a state that increasingly trended toward Republicans in recent presidential elections.

Formerly a battleground state, Trump handily won it in both 2016 and 2020. Current polling data, moreover, suggests that Trump will repeat his win in the Buckeye State in 2024. The RealClearPolitics polling average currently shows him up 10 points over Biden, even without his running mate selected.

With Vance’s home state likely to break for Trump anyway, it remains unclear what benefit he could bring to the ticket electorally. Trump has, however, suggested he believes the choice of running mate has little effect on the success of a ticket.

"The VP choice has absolutely no impact. It's whoever the president is," he said during a Fox News town hall in February.

Potentially complicating matters is the fact that a successful Trump-Vance ticket would result in the loss of one Trump’s most prominent advocates in the upper chamber and leave his replacement at the discretion of Ohio GOP Gov. Mike DeWine.

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