Election 2022

A New Authoritarian Political Style Is on the Ballot in Ohio

The most jarring thing about Senate candidate J.D. Vance is how open he is about rejecting the rule of law.


According to the polling averages, Republican venture capitalist J.D. Vance is currently leading his opponent, Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, by a little over two points in the Ohio Senate race. FiveThirtyEight now gives the Hillbilly Elegy author an 80 percent chance of winning the seat in Tuesday's midterm. Assuming that forecast proves accurate, it will be a major victory for a combative, authoritarian political style increasingly associated with the national conservative movement.

The signature characteristic of the natcons, as I've written elsewhere, is a desire to wield government power in "muscular" fashion against their political enemies. Vance, who spoke at the National Conservatism Conference in 2019 and 2021, epitomizes that lust for power; if anything, he has been more willing than most on the New Right to openly declare his intent to use the state in obviously extralegal ways, telling Fox News' Tucker Carlson, for example, that conservatives should employ the taxation power to "seize" the assets of "woke, leftist" nonprofits such as the Ford Foundation and universities such as Harvard.

Note well the call for a selective application of the law. Vance pointedly isn't saying that we should rethink the tax-exempt status of nonprofits and universities in general. He's saying private entities should be punitively targeted for their political views. This is not noble opposition to cronyism; it's an abuse of power that conservatives would instantly recognize as a violation of the rule of law were it ever attempted by the left.

Vance has also been shockingly candid about the fact that—contra the talking points of GOP political aspirants from decades past—he is not merely out to win power in order to roll back the size and scope of government. He means to rule. Here he is laying out his approach last year in an interview with the controversial men's rights activist Jack Murphy:

So a lot of conservatives have said we should deconstruct the administrative state. We should basically eliminate the administrative state. And I'm sympathetic to that project, but another option is that we should just seize the administrative state for our own purposes. We should fire all of the people. I think Trump is gonna run again in 2024. I think he'll probably win again in 2024, and he'll win by a margin such that he'll be the president of the United States in January of 2025. I think what Trump should do, if I was giving him one piece of advice: Fire every single mid-level bureaucrat. Every civil servant in the administrative state. Replace them with our people, and when the courts—because you will get taken to court—and when the courts stop you, stand before the country like Andrew Jackson did, and say, "The chief justice has made his ruling. Now let him enforce it." [emphasis added]

Vance, a Yale-educated lawyer, knows such a move would be blocked by the courts. Taking a page from the book of neoreactionary blogger Curtis Yarvin, a self-described monarchist, he thinks a Republican president should do it anyway, and then defy any attempt at judicial review. That scenario, if it came to pass, would be a bona fide constitutional crisis.

Ryan, a Democrat who has supported President Joe Biden's agenda as a member of Congress, is no libertarian himself. On economics, the platforms of the two candidates are functionally similar. Both oppose free trade (with Ryan boasting in one campaign ad that "I voted with Trump" on that issue), blame China for many of America's problems, and support industrial policy to prop up domestic manufacturing. Both have focused on drug overdoses in the region and call for increased funding for law enforcement. Both would raise taxes.

The main policy distinctions between the Senate hopefuls, then, are on cultural issues. Ryan has hit Vance for opposing abortion rights, while Vance has hit Ryan for being soft on immigration.

Arguably the most jarring aspect of the Vance campaign, though, is how transparently it has fomented hate and rejected individual liberty as a value. "If we're going to actually really effect real change in the country," he told Ben Domenech, the former publisher of The Federalist, last year, "it will require us completely replacing the existing ruling class with another ruling class." For Vance, as for so many natcons, politics is a war to determine which elites get to impose their will on the rest of us.