Former President Donald Trump’s newest Senate endorsee was even less of a Trump fan than he’d publicly let on.
Back in 2016, during his #NeverTrump phase, Ohio Senate candidate and Hillbilly Elegy author JD Vance said Trump was either a “cynical asshole” or “America’s Hitler” in a private message to an old law school classmate.
It’s no secret that Vance, who won the coveted Trump endorsement last weekend, wasn’t a Trump fan back then—he publicly mocked Trump all year and refused to vote for him in the 2016 general election, and publicly called him “noxious,” “reprehensible,” and an “idiot” in October 2016.
But Vance went even further rhetorically in a private Facebook message he sent to Josh McLaurin, Vance’s old Yale Law School roommate, when McLaurin reached out to ask for his take on the GOP primary in February 2016.
“I think most people are not very ideological, and Trump, while I find him loathsome, touches a legitimate nerve. You should read David Frum's piece in the Atlantic on the Republican revolt. But I'm not surprised by Trump's rise, and I think the entire party has only itself to blame,” Vance messaged McLaurin. “We are, whether we like it or not, the party of lower-income, lower-education white people, and I have been saying for a long time that we need to offer those people SOMETHING (and hell, maybe even expand our appeal to working-class black people in the process) or a demagogue would. We are now at that point. Trump is the fruit of the party's collective neglect.”
Vance then said Trump was either like disgraced former President Richard Nixon—or Nazi leader Adolph Hitler.
“I go back and forth between thinking Trump is a cynical asshole like Nixon who wouldn't be that bad (and might even prove useful) or that he's America's Hitler. How's that for discouraging?” Vance concludes, before asking McLaurin how his work was going.
Vance’s comments came a few days after Florida Sen. Marco Rubio fell apart during a 2016 New Hampshire presidential debate, all but ensuring Trump would win the state’s primary and make himself the prohibitive favorite to win the GOP nomination.
McLaurin, now a Democratic state representative in Georgia, tweeted a screenshot of part of that comment on Monday, and shared the full message with VICE News along with evidence that they were roommates and proof the message was legitimately from Vance. VICE News independently verified that Vance and McLaurin are friends on Facebook.
“I can’t believe how cynical he has become. He’s a smart guy who knows what he’s doing,” McLaurin told VICE News. “The public deserves to know also, so we can stop picking leaders who have so much disdain for the people they represent.”
Since sending those messages, Vance has pulled a complete flip-flop on Trump and apologized time and again for his past remarks.
“Like a lot of people, I criticized Trump back in 2016,” Vance said last summer. “And I ask folks not to judge me based on what I said in 2016, because I’ve been very open that I did say those critical things and I regret them, and I regret being wrong about the guy. I think he was a good president, I think he made a lot of good decisions for people, and I think he took a lot of flak.”
Vance’s campaign rolled its eyes at the “old news.”
“It’s laughable that the media treats JD not liking Trump 6 years ago as some sort of breaking news, when they’ve already covered it to death since this race began. Clearly, President Trump trusts that JD is a genuine convert, as out of all the Republican candidates running, he endorsed JD and concluded that he is the strongest America First conservative in the race,” Vance Campaign Manager Jordan Wiggins said in a statement to VICE News. “Despite the leftwing media’s obsession with this old news, JD is proud to have President Trump’s support and will stand with him to fight back against the radical left and the establishment RINOs as Ohio’s next Senator.”
Trump even acknowledged Vance’s past criticism of him when he endorsed Vance last Friday.
“Like some others, JD 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. He is our best chance for victory in what could be a very tough race,” he said.
A spokesman for Trump didn’t respond to requests for comment on this message.