J. D. Vance Thinks You’ll Believe Anything

Sen. J. D. Vance (R., Ohio) arrives for a closed briefing for all senators to discuss the leak of classified U.S. intelligence documents on the war in Ukraine, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., April 19, 2023. (Amanda Andrade Rhoades/Reuters)

The Senate’s package of aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan is not a plot against Donald Trump, no matter how hard Vance tries to convince you otherwise.

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The Senate’s package of aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan is not a plot against Donald Trump, no matter how hard Vance tries to convince you otherwise.

‘I t is a plot against the President Trump, plain and simple,” Senator J. D. Vance pointedly determined on Monday. You might wonder which “plot” he was referring to. At this point, there are so many furtive cabals allegedly working behind the scenes to thwart the populist agenda that it’s getting hard to keep track of them all. According to Vance, the latest assault on Trump’s prerogatives has taken the form of legislation designed to aid our partners abroad in their fights against America’s enemies, and the authors of the former president’s forthcoming torment are his fellow Republicans.

Over the weekend, a bipartisan group of 67 senators took a step toward approving a $95 billion bill designed to refill America’s depleted ordnance stocks while providing support for our front-line partners in Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. Calling it a foreign-aid package is a misnomer. The lion’s share of the funds it would unlock would never leave the United States.

Of the $61 billion earmarked for supporting Ukraine, nearly $20 billion is devoted to replenishing Defense Department inventory. Another $13.8 billion allows Ukraine to purchase the U.S.-made ordnance it needs to fire out of U.S.-made platforms, while $14.8 billion funds support operations such as training Ukrainian fighters. Almost $3 billion is dedicated to deterring Chinese aggression against Taiwan, but nearly $2 billion of that would only replace munitions already transferred to Taipei. $14 billion is allocated to funding Israel’s defensive needs, much of which will fund the U.S.-based manufacture of anti-missile interceptors.

That would seem straightforward, but Vance sees it as a cleverly laid trap designed to compel a future president Trump to implement policies he doesn’t like. “Though few have noticed, buried in the bill’s text is a kill switch for the next Trump presidency,” Vance writes in the American Conservative. “The legislation explicitly requires funding for Ukraine well into the next presidential term.”

Even though Speaker Mike Johnson ran for his current role while insisting that the U.S. “can’t allow Vladimir Putin to prevail in Ukraine,” Vance interprets the bill as an effort to jam the House GOP and spark an internal conflict over Johnson’s speakership. “This is how you save Joe Biden’s presidency,” Vance writes. “By taking the chaos of Joe Biden’s tenure and making it about Republican chaos being even worse.”

To summarize the plot, it involves a Democrat-led chamber passing legislation supporting a generally popular cause that a plurality of Republican voters dislikes. That legislation will then sow chaos in the otherwise placid and preternaturally competent House GOP, culminating in Joe Biden’s reelection. And if it doesn’t, it will serve as a pretext to impeach Donald Trump for failing to execute the law — a theory of impeachment Vance deems “novel” while ignoring its apparent appeal to Republicans who see impeachment as a remedy to Biden’s refusal to enforce the law. Quite the intrigue.

The crux of Vance’s claim rests on a mechanism in the bill that ensures the availability of the funds Congress appropriates through the fall of 2025. This fairly standard provision is unlikely to be necessary — those funds will almost certainly be under contract well before that date. After all, if Vance believes the funding horizon for Ukraine is too long and hamstrings future presidents, that was not a reservation he expressed in his support of a House-backed bill providing for Israel’s defense through September 2025. We’re fast running out of good-faith explanations for Vance’s latest claim.

Indeed, the senator’s enthusiastic effort to read malignancy into the attempt to take the issue of Ukraine off the agenda for the remainder of the calendar year could be construed as misplaced zeal if it didn’t contrast with Vance’s inability to see malice on the part of the country whose aggression made this initiative necessary.

The Ohio senator spent a good portion of a weekend he will never get back making excuses for the delusions under which Russian president Vladimir Putin operates, all while casting his domestic opponents as a threat to liberty akin to Putin’s regime.

“Most of the historical criticisms of the Tucker-Putin interview are as dumb as they are meaningless,” Vance wrote of former Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s sojourn to the Kremlin. He zeroed in on Putin’s deeply unnerving claim that Poland conspired with and, ultimately, instigated Hitler to the point that Berlin had no choice but to invade in 1939. The point of Putin’s revisionist history was to rehabilitate the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, which culminated in Stalin’s participation in the partition of Poland and the massacres the Soviet and Nazi invasions precipitated. “Every nation tells stories about itself and its enemies that are at least partly rooted in bogus claims,” Vance wrote.

What a chilling summary dismissal of Putin’s effort to whitewash the prelude to the Holocaust in Poland. “The point is that if you want to understand world affairs and make smart decisions, you have to understand how people see themselves,” Vance wrote in his own defense. That high-minded apologia was preceded by flippant performance art in which Vance joked that America’s self-appointed “disinformation” police and the Biden administration have engaged in repressive tactics at least reminiscent of Putin’s. His point wasn’t entirely clear. If there was one, it was to downplay the threat to American national security represented by an expansionist autocrat prosecuting the largest conventional war of conquest in Europe since 1945.

Vance has a habit of accusing those who support Ukraine’s defense against Moscow’s objective of forcefully yoking the Ukrainian people to the culturally totalitarian and politically authoritarian Russian state of being “obsessed” with the embattled European nation. But that is self-serving projection.

Moscow’s revisionist history isn’t an unremarkable exercise in nationalist mythmaking; it’s just downstream from Holocaust denial. American Democrats aren’t just as bad as Putin’s regime — not until they start murdering journalists and political dissidents at home and abroad, and sponsoring crimes against humanity. Donald Trump isn’t being put into any sort of trap unless you regard Congress’s lawmaking prerogatives as somehow illegitimate when they happen to conflict with his own.

Does Vance believe otherwise? Who knows. But he certainly thinks you might be convinced to.

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