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Republican Senate candidate JD Vance speaks at a rally at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, Saturday, April 23, 2022, in Delaware, Ohio, where former President Donald Trump spoke later in the day to endorse Republican candidates ahead of the Ohio primary on May 3.

JD Vance

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Former President Donald Trump on Saturday reiterated his reasoning for picking J.D. Vance in the Ohio Republican Senate, saying Vance had the best chance of winning in November.

Through a meandering speech that lasted more than 90 minutes at a rally at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, Trump didn’t make Vance his central focus. That role was reserved for the man himself and his many grievances.

But when he briefly did nearly an hour into his comments, he said Vance, a formerly ardent Trump critic, was the best option at beating Tim Ryan, a Niles-area congressman who is the favorite to win the Democratic primary.

“He’s a guy that said some bad s–t about me. He did,” Trump said of Vance. “But you know what? Every one of the others did also. In fact, if I went by that standard, I probably never would have endorsed anyone in the country. They all said back, but they came back.

“But I have to do what I have to do,” he continued. “We have to pick somebody that can win.”

Trump’s endorsement of Vance in the race to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Rob Portman has caused some controversy in Republican circles around the state. Vance previously described himself as “never Trump” and said things that are generally anathema to Trump supporters, such as publicly suggesting he might vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. Shortly after Trump announced his endorsement, a former law school roommate of Vance’s posted a screenshot of a message from Vance in which he said Trump could be “America’s Hitler.”

That past has dogged Vance through the primary, which includes former Treasurer Josh Mandel, Cleveland investment banker Mike Gibbons and former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Jane Timken, who have all billed themselves as the most pro-Trump of the bunch. Only former state Sen. Matt Dolan has eschewed that model, declining to seek his endorsement.

So, when Vance, who was largely absent from Ohio politics during Trump’s presidency, was announced as the selection, it caused some heartache. Numerous county party chairs penned a letter trying to get Trump to change his mind. Grassroots organizations have also grumbled about the pick.

At Saturday’s rally, however, any past indiscretions were apparently forgiven by Trump for the greater goal of beating the Democrats in 2022, with Trump frequently teasing another presidential run in 2024.

“I like a lot of the other people in the race, but we have to pick the one that’s going to win,” Trump said. “This guy is tough as hell. He’s going to win. We have to pick him. He’s right. He’s the guy. He’s the guy.”

The crowd seemed receptive when Trump invited Vance on stage. Chants of “J.D.” broke out as Vance called Trump the best president of his lifetime.

Though ostensibly a rally for Vance and several other candidates, Trump spent most of the time rehashing old complaints or going on tangents. That included a 15-minute segment on appliance manufacturer Whirlpool and his desire to repeal regulations on water flow to dishwashers.

Vance spoke briefly at around 5 p.m., a general rehashing of the stump speech he’s made around the state for weeks, and only briefly touched on his past comments against Trump without getting into specifics.

He also made no mention of his former critiques of Trump supporters.

“There is definitely an element of Donald Trump’s support that has its basis in racism or xenophobia,” Vance said during an interview on PBS Newshour in 2016. “But a lot of these folks are just really hardworking people who are struggling in really important ways.”

Aside from his handwaving of his about-face on Trump, Vance loaded his quick address with buzzwords and popular phrases about being “tough” on China, taking on Big Tech and ousting fake Republicans from Congress.

“I will not serve the donors of the Republican Party. I will not serve the tech executives,” Vance said. He did not note that his largest single financial backer is Peter Thiel, a former Facebook board member and one of the wealthiest donors to Republican Party politicians.

Earlier in the day, Trump successfully consolidated some support on the Republican ticket. Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who was previously critical of Trump’s rhetoric surrounding election fraud, though has shifted his tone as the election has gone on, endorsed Vance while Trump endorsed LaRose. That move also rankled some grassroots Republicans, many of whom are very critical of LaRose.

A little while later as the rally was starting, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, the opening speaker, repeated the unfounded claim that there was massive fraud in the 2020 election, including more than 500,000 fraudulent votes in Ohio. Trump’s preferred livestream of the rally, modeled on a news program, also included a lengthy discussion about unfounded claims of fraudulent voting in Ohio.

LaRose has said multiple times there was not widespread fraud in the 2020 election.

“Here are the facts: Ohio smashed voter turnout records in 2020 while providing Ohioans a secure election,” LaRose said in February of this year. “Our state is proof positive you don’t have to choose between secure or convenient elections — we have both.”

LaRose did not respond to emailed questions about whether he had changed his stance in lieu of the Trump endorsement or if he thought it was appropriate that the former president invited speakers to the state who claimed he allowed voter fraud through inflated voter rolls.

“You did a fantastic job on redistricting and all the things you did,” Trump said of LaRose, who, along with Republicans on the Ohio Redistricting Commission, successfully circumvented voter-approved legislation and passed a gerrymandered map that favors the GOP.

Trump and Vance were also joined on stage by Republican Congressmen Mike Carey and Troy Balderson of Central Ohio as well as congressional hopefuls Max Miller of Rocky River and Madison Gesiotto of North Canton.

Trump’s Saturday rally was his first in the state since last summer when he headlined a massive outdoor rally in Lorain. At that event, Trump played with the crowd and his overwhelming hold over Ohio Republican politics by taking a crowd reaction “poll” of former Treasurer Josh Mandel, former Ohio Republican Party Jane Timken and Cleveland businessman Mike Gibbons.

Vance did not get a mention from Trump at that rally.

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