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The ballad of J.D. Mandel


In his extended mash note to J.D. Vance, Christopher Caldwell inadvertently reveals an important truth: Vance was always the mean-spirited asshole his current behavior reflects:

Readers of “Hillbilly Elegy” who find Mr. Vance’s campaign rhetoric a jarring departure may actually be misremembering the book. His Mamaw railed at the so-called Section 8 federal subsidies that allowed a succession of poor families to move in next door. Southern whites were migrating to the Republican Party, Mr. Vance wrote, in large part because “many in the white working class saw precisely what I did, working at Dillman’s,” a neighborhood grocery. There, thanks to food stamps, he wrote, “our drug-addict neighbor would buy T-bone steaks, which I was too poor to buy for myself but was forced by Uncle Sam to buy for someone else.”

This is MAGA “populism” in a nutshell — appealing to white working class voters means not providing them with material benefits but taking away the T-Bone steaks and Cadillacs and Obamaphones allegedly given to the blahs by Uncle Sucker. Sharp readers will note that this was also Reagan’s vision of conservatism! To the extent that there were doubts about Trump among Republican elites, it was over whether he shared this worldview. Since he clearly does (and always did), he can be enthusiastically embraced.

When Trump refers to him as “J.D. Mandel,” he at least understands Vance much better than the pundits who still think that Vance is some kind of secret moderate because he has fancy degrees and enjoys a New York cocktail party. But there’s never been a penny’s worth of difference between his actual politics and Mandel’s.

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