Nancy Nix continues to be a great example of influence leadership in Butler County, Ohio. I attribute the success of any endeavor, whether it’s a successful business or a political community, to the strength of its influence leadership, which I spend a lot of time talking about in my new book, The Gunfighter’s Guide to Business. Influence leaders are not the ones who put a spotlight on themselves; but instead, they work as leaders in ways that aren’t traditionally measured for the success of any enterprise. And that’s what Nancy does, and how I finally was able to meet J.D. Vance after many other opportunities to do so came up short. I had wanted to meet J.D. since he is running for the Rob Portman senate seat. I had been writing about how much I like Jane Timken in that role. I had liked Josh Mandel because I know him as a Tea Party guy. But I’m not crazy how he has managed the pressure once he did get essential seats. Timken just picked up an endorsement of Kristi Noem, which meant a lot to me, but the big drawback there is that she’s too close to Mike DeWine. When I have talked to her personally, she is quick to explain the complexity of that relationship. I give her some room there because everyone has to have some representation as a party leader even if she doesn’t agree with everything they do. But the question is, to what effect would other things be accepted in accepting a few screwballs here and there? Some other candidates for this Rob Portman Senate race are not viable, likely under 10%ers who just muddy the water. But J.D. Vance is one whom I’ve wanted to like because I liked his book Hillbilly Elegy when it first came out, and I have thought he did a great job in the media covering that book and talking about Trump’s White House. Yet he seemed too good, so I have had questions for him that you could only tell upon meeting someone, and until Nancy managed to get us together, I would have never otherwise known.
When reading the Hillbilly Elegy, I had thought that it was precisely people like J.D. Vance who should be managing our affairs in government. After all, he checked all the boxes; he was a lawyer trained at Yale, worked in the tech industry, was a Marine, and rose from the ashes of Middletown, Ohio, which is literally in my back yard to move into great things of personal achievement. They made an interesting Netflix movie about his life and family based on the book, and I wondered if his wife was as sweet and understanding in real life as she was in the book and movie. As it turned out, she was. And when meeting J.D., you can tell without a shadow of a doubt that he is a good guy. A very good person and the reason for it is that he had a good family. Sure, the Hillbilly Elegy was about severe dysfunction at certain levels. Vance’s mother is now known so well for her history of substance abuse. He had a wild childhood that crushes most kids in most families, most of the time. As J.D. says in his book, he is astonished to come from his childhood and into this new life as a normal person. I don’t think I am too surprised that J.D. is such a good person because even with all the dysfunction with his mother, he had a very good family otherwise. Many people inside the Beltway politics don’t know that those from the mountains of Kentucky and West Virginia, on down into Tennessee and Virginia, are pretty intelligent. They have been ridiculed and made fun of in every way that society can make fun of a people. But I’ve known them all my life, and I have had family members go through the same kind of thing as J.D. has. Luckily my parents were rock solid, but I have cousins and aunts and uncles who were every bit as troubled as J.D. Vance’s mother was. It often comes from being too smart for their own good, which gets them into trouble, and they turn to drugs to shut out the voices of logic that run counter to a crazy world. Reality is just a little too real for them, and they collapse on themselves. But in J.D. Vance’s story, his strong and deep family is pretty standard among the people I know, and yes, they are Trump voters. They listen to Alex Jones in the garage through a rebel radio network. I have family, in fact, that still lives down in the areas of Kentucky, such as Slade and Buckhorn, who are so suspicious of census workers that often those government workers disappear, never to be heard from again.
I had a few copies of the Hillbilly Elegy; I bought the updated paperback when it came out after the Netflix film was released, and J.D. had added the new afterword at the back of the book. There he explains that he took his book proceeds and bought the property down in Jackson, Kentucky, where his grandparents were buried, and stated that he wanted to preserve the land so that his kids could enjoy it as he did. I brought that book with me for him to sign at our meeting, which he did. Yes, J.D. Vance is a really good and sincere person. He is the real deal. But my concern was how would he hold up under the pressure of politics once the honeymoon was over and his Mr. Smith Goes to Washington moment was over. After all, it’s not a question as to whether he can get elected. J.D. has some great campaign people. He has great fundraising and support. He is great at television and other forms of communication. He has a supportive wife. You can check all the positives. Is he tough? Well, he had to be to come out of childhood without being a mess. Can he stand up to corruption? I think he has no tolerance for corruption and can afford to stand up to it, knowing that he has a good family to lean on no matter what happens in his life. So, I asked him the question I wanted to ask, why I needed to meet him. “So what will make you different than Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, other Mr. Smith Goes to Washington types who get into the Senate with great intentions only to get buzz-sawed in that corrupt culture?” And he said the only thing that could be the correct answer; he said, “well, it’s going to take a coalition of about 8 or 9 people, and from there, we can begin to turn the tide.” It was good to hear that he understood that beyond just campaign talk. Everyone has great ideas when they are trying to get elected. But very few know what to do once they get there.
J.D. Vance was ready for the buzz-saw. His wife was there, and I could see her look; it was the look of a supportive wife who would have enjoyed being anywhere but there because all the handshaking was not her thing. But in her was that same kind of unconditional and dependable love that J.D. had with his Mamaw. How do I know, because I have a wife like that, and I had a grandmother much as J.D. did. Appalachia women from the mountains and the wild men they married and tamed. It’s a Middletown, Hamilton, Ohio kind of thing. And when you find a wife who understands, then it can make a person nearly invincible. And for those reasons and more, J.D. Vance is a good option for that much-needed Senate seat. There’s a long way to go in the race yet. Still, I would love for a person like J.D. Vance to fill such a seat when the world is desperately hungry for those kinds of people to manage our government with influence leadership and a tremendous personal foundation for truth and justice for all. I want to see how all these candidates hold up under the pressure in the upcoming months, but I can at least say now, I am cheering for J.D. Vance. I hope to see him intact at the finish line.