J.D. Vance, the Republican nominee for Senate in Ohio, is typically described as the bestselling author of Hillbilly Elegy, a venture capitalist, and a Never Trumper who came to embrace Donald Trump. But that snapshot doesn’t do justice to Vance, a reactionary extremist who yearns to destroy what he calls the “American leadership class” and to implement an extensive and possibly illegal program to cleanse US society of liberal influence. He compares this project to the de-Nazification of Germany following World War II. Last September, Vance outlined this message of revolutionary conservatism on a podcast hosted by a rightwing activist and self-styled masculinity champion who once declared, “Feminists need rape.” During the interview, Vance called for returning Trump to the White House in 2024 so Trump could fire every top and mid-level federal government employee to “deconstruct the administrative state,” and he noted that Trump should even defy the law, if necessary, to mount such a purge.
The show’s host was Jack Murphy, who runs a secretive men’s organization that claims all major American institutions—universities, the media, the government, unions, professional organizations, nonprofits, and corporations—have been “infiltrated, corrupted, demoralized” and aim to “control you forever.” For years, Murphy has railed against feminism, wokeness, and other conservative bête noires. In a blog post written in 2015 and subsequently deleted, he asserted, “Feminists need rape… It is our duty as men to save feminists from themselves. Therefore, I am offering rape to feminists as an olive branch.”
Vance spent a cordial 90 minutes with Murphy, legitimizing the host and discussing politics, culture wars, and masculinity, as Murphy (whose real name is John Goldman) fawned over Vance. Not once did Vance raise Murphy’s comments about rape—which were first reported in 2018 (at a time when Murphy, then an employee of the Washington DC Public Charter School Board, was being investigated for incendiary blog posts written under his Jack Murphy moniker). The two men appeared largely in agreement, as they bemoaned the current state of American society and advocated drastic remedies to impose a new conservative order on the nation. The conversation provides a clear picture of Vance’s worldview and his support for extreme actions.
Vance contended that “elite culture” is corrupt and maintained that his success as an author and VCer had landed him in the middle of a “garbage liberal elite culture” that teaches citizens to hate America and that is dominated by woke-ism, globalism, and social progressivism—the enemies of “traditional American culture.” The country’s leaders, he added, “are actively aligned against” the notion that “we live in a great country.” In the tradition of far-right populism, he claimed the entire elite strata of the United States was a subversive and malignant entity that plots to undermine the nation. His prescription: “Rip out like a tumor the current American leadership class and then reinstall some sense of American political religion, some sense of shared values.”
Vance was calling for the reeducation or reformation of American society predicated on conservative policies and values. “Conservatism,” he declared, “has to be a counter-revolutionary force at this moment… We’re talking about replacing garbage elite culture with traditional American culture.”
Murphy was all in on this idea. “How do we effectively, quote, rip out the disgusting leadership class?” he eagerly asked Vance, noting, “This evil leadership class has already taken over all of our institutions. All the media. All the academy. All of our corporations. Every educational institution. Every arts and culture institution. Even every freaking sporting institution.” He added, “Is it even possible to renovate or rehab these institutions from the inside?” As he asked Vance for a game plan to combat the supposed evildoers, Murphy complained that President Joe Biden had declared in early 2021 that terrorism waged by white supremacists was the “most lethal terrorist threat to our homeland.”
Vance replied that how to smash the power structure “is maybe the question that confronts us.” And he had a plan for doing this: “One model is what happened to Germany after the Nazis lost or what happened to the Iraqis after Saddam Hussein, after we threw Saddam Hussein out. De-Nazification, de-Baathification. There was this massive recognition that you couldn’t just put, replace the bad people, replace the bad Nazis with the good Germans. There was this entire effort to de-institutionalize that ideology.”
Vance was asserting that a vile elite in league with the left rules America and comparing it to the Nazis of Germany and the Baathists of Iraq. And the right needed to go to war against it. “We should seize the institutions of the left and turn them against the left,” he told Murphy. “We need like a de-Baathification program but like a de-woke-ification program in the United States.”
Vance pointed out that he was sympathetic to the right-wing idea that “we don’t have a real constitutional republic anymore, what we have is an administrative state. The administrative state controls everything…to the point when Donald Trump wins, he can’t even get his people in core positions of authority in the administrative state.” Noting that Trump—or any president—could not fire civil service employees at will, he asked, “Is this really a successful republic?”
Vance observed that many conservatives call for deconstructing the administrative state. (Steve Bannon, Trump’s onetime White House strategist, has been a prominent advocate of this idea.) He said he was “sympathetic to that project.” But he proposed another option: “We should just seize the administrative state for our own purposes.” Predicting that Trump would run for president in 2024 and win, Vance remarked, “I think what Trump should do is…fire every single mid-level bureaucrat, every civil servant in the administrative state, replace them with our people.”
A president does not possess the power to can the 2 million or so employees of the civil service. (Imagine the chaos that would cause.) Such government workers can only be fired for cause—though Trump and his crew have recently been plotting how to dismiss a large chunk of federal employees should he return to the White House. Yet Vance told Murphy that a restored-to-power Trump should ignore and contravene the law in his effort to crush the civil service: “When the courts—because you will be taken to court—and when the courts stop you, stand before the country, like Andrew Jackson did, and say the chief justice has made his ruling, now let him enforce it.” (Vance was referring to when President Jackson refused to accept a 1832 Supreme Court decision that impeded the ability of state governments and the federal government to steal land from indigenous people and forcibly remove them from their territories.) Vance also cited Hungarian autocrat Viktor Orbán as a role model for a second Trump presidency.
In essence, Vance was calling for a right-wing crusade: “De-institutionalize the left, re-institutionalize the right… It will require men and women of incredible courage. But I don’t see another way out.” He added, “we need a muscular conservatism.”
The Vance campaign declined to comment on his interview with Murphy or to answer questions about his call for instituting a de-Nazification-like program in the United States. Murphy declined to comment on his blog post referring to feminists and rape.
During the podcast, Vance explained his conversion to Trumpism after having been an opponent of the reality TV celebrity in 2016. He recalled that as a best-selling author and Yale Law School graduate he was “dumped into this elite world in a way that I never fully realized” and did “lose sight” of true American values until he “had this transformation in how I think about the American elite.” He came to believe that all elements of the upper reaches of American society were corrupt and controlled by the left. This includes corporate America. Talking to Murphy, he derided “woke capital,” insisting that “money in our society has gone in with the left on the culture wars.” His example: “Every major corporation” had spoken out against the draconian anti-abortion law Texas passed in 2021. He decried the use of diversity questionnaires in corporate America.
Vance also claimed that China was behind the woke-ism supposedly infecting American capitalism: “The Chinese, we know, they like America becoming socially liberally because they think it makes us culturally weaker and will eventually make us easier to beat in the long term conflict we are likely to have with China. So they love it when we go woke. They are actively promoting often very bad ideas and in some ways smuggling them into American businesses because these American businesses are so dependent on business with the Chinese.” This was a far-right twofer: American woke-ness was being nefariously advanced by the devious Chinese. He did not detail how Beijing was prosecuting this sinister plot.
Vance proposed striking back at woke corporations, citing Apple, Delta, and Google, and asserting the need to make them “feel economic pain.” He lambasted Amazon and Jeff Bezos for “sending tens of millions of dollars to the Black Lives Matter movement. (In early 2022, Amazon suspended the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation from its charity platform, noting the organization had failed to disclose how it had spent its contributions from Amazon.) Vance exclaimed, “Woke capital is turning our society into a socially progressive hellhole.”
Also on Vance’s target list: Harvard University and other elite schools with huge endowments. “Maybe it’s time to tax that endowment,” he said, “seize the endowment, actually penalize these endowments for being on the wrong side of some of these cultural war issues.” Harvard’s endowment, he claimed, “funds some of the most radical anti-America stuff that’s out there.” He added, “You can certainly seize” university endowments “through taxation.”
Vance recounted that he had been “really radicalized” by the mask mandates during the Covid pandemic. He maintained that compelling children to wear masks in schools was “actively malevolent and evil.” It had nothing to do with public health and safety, he contended: “This is all about control.” In fact, the mask mandates were a sign for Vance that the nation was nearly lost. The United States, he said, is in a “late-Republic” stage: “We’re very clearly close to a point where the people don’t have nearly as much power. The oligarchy has seized most of it. And it’s going to take a lot of very fundamental transformation to give the people anything like the power back.”
Vance essentially told Murphy that desperate times require desperate measures: “If we’re going to push back against it, we’re have to get pretty wild, pretty far out there, and go in directions that a lot of conservatives right now are uncomfortable with.”
Murphy responded by noting that “among some of my circle the phrase ‘extraconstitutional’ has come up quite a bit… We do need to take a much more aggressive stance… [I]f we want to…re-found the country back to its founding principles…we’re going to have to become a little bit more robust in our behavior.” Vance agreed with the need for a more confrontational approach: “That’s exactly right. I think that’s what’s so difficult about this moment for conservatives is that we love the country so much that we don’t want to admit to ourselves how far gone things are. I hear this from a lot of conservatives… It’s really time to wake up.”
Vance, whose Senate campaign has been financially backed by reactionary tech billionaire Peter Thiel, has generated plenty of controversy with assorted stances and comments. After the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision in June, he issued a tweet suggesting women ought to prefer to become mothers than to pursue time-demanding professions. Last month, Rep. Tim Ryan, the Democrat running against Vance, excoriated Vance for recommending that people stay in violent marriages for the sake of their kids. In February, days before Russia brutally invaded Ukraine, Vance said (on Bannon’s podcast), “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another.” On another occasion, he accused the Biden administration of purposefully flooding the United States with fentanyl to “kill a bunch of MAGA voters in the middle of the heartland.”
Vance is a prominent figure in the libertarianish, tech-oriented, nationalist, and Trump-loving reactionary right. (Blake Masters, a Thiel-backed candidate who’s running for Senate in Arizona, is another.) His conservative views are not surprising. But his take on American society is profoundly dark, and his remedy is extreme. As Vance puts it, the United States is threatened by an enemy within that has gained control of practically all of the nation’s leading institutions, and this foe—comparable to dictatorial Nazis and Baathists—must be rooted out and eradicated, even if by extralegal means, to save the republic. When Murphy referenced the possible need for “extraconstitutional” steps—presumably actions that would not be deemed legal by US courts—Vance did not recoil.
In 2016, Vance told a former roommate that he saw Trump as either a “cynical asshole” or “America’s Hitler.” Now he vilifies left-leaning elites as a Nazi-level threat to the nation and hails Trump as a much-needed autocrat who should exterminate this enemy force. And the GOP has embraced him, with the Senate Leadership Fund, a political action committee closely tied to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), launching a $28 million ad blitz on Vance’s behalf. Vance’s exchanges with Murphy demonstrate how the fringe-right in the Trump era has become a core component of the Republican Party and that the dangerous excesses of Trumpism are on the ballot this fall, even if Trump is not.