As Republican candidates fought to establish a winning coalition ahead of today's Ohio primary elections to replace retiring Sen. Rob Portman (R), right-wing media personalities competed to elevate their preferred candidates amid the crowded field.
Right-wing media, including Fox News prime-time host Tucker Carlson, seem to heavily favor Hillbilly Elegy author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance, who has also been endorsed by former President Donald Trump. One America News Network has pushed hard for Vance since Trump’s endorsement. The closest opponent to Vance, at least in the eyes of right-wing media, is former state treasurer and two-time Senate candidate Josh Mandel, who has the endorsement of radio host Mark Levin.
The hotly contested U.S. Senate primary in Ohio has garnered considerable media attention as far-right conservatives battle to shape their GOP’s future. Even though there are five main contenders — Vance, Mandel, former Ohio Republican Party chair Jane Timken, state Sen. Matt Dolan, and businessman Mike Gibbons — Vance appears to have won the attention of conservative media and the support of some of its most vitriolic hosts.
According to Media Matters’ internal database, Vance has appeared 14 times since January 1 during weekday segments on Fox News, compared to just 3 times combined among his opponents. With the notable exception of Fox News weekend host and longtime conservative radio personality Mark Levin, who is supporting Mandel, right-wing media have gravitated toward Vance throughout 2022, especially after Trump endorsed him in mid-April. Vance was once a conservative critic of Trump but nonetheless received the endorsement over Trump loyalists Mandel, Timken, and others, likely due to lobbying and support from Fox host Tucker Carlson.
Vance has a penchant for pushing far-right ideas, including denying the validity of the 2020 election, saying that the Russian invasion of Ukraine doesn’t really matter to Americans, and pushing a conspiracy theory about the COVID-19 vaccines. He also put out a blatantly racist ad that appeared to blame his mother’s struggles with addiction on immigration. And while his closest opponent, Mandel, has been undeniably and publicly anti-Muslim, accusing all Muslim people of hating Jews and Christians, he does not have the double-digit appearances on Fox nor a Trump endorsement to show for his extremist positions.
Vance’s right-wing media supporters fall in line
Despite Vance’s criticism of Trump during the 2016 election, Trump endorsed him, likely in part due to Carlson’s alleged lobbying on Vance’s behalf. Of Vance’s 14 appearances on Fox News in 2022, 12 were during prime-time shows and more than half of them have been on Carlson’s program. Since Trump’s endorsement, Vance has picked up several other major right-wing media endorsements, including from Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, Donald Trump Jr., and Ann Coulter. The Ivy League-educated former venture capitalist has been positioning himself far-right on policy debates, notably releasing a xenophobic campaign ad that asked voters, “Do you hate Mexicans?” Vance has also been a loud voice in various culture war battles that right-wing media have been fighting regarding internet censorship, and calling teachers who talked about LGBTQ issues “groomers.” Vance received direct praise from Carlson and fellow Fox prime-time host Laura Ingraham for his views on Trump, vaccines, guns, and Ukraine. And OAN host Dan Ball particularly praised Vance for his dismissal of the war in Ukraine as unimporant to American interests:
- Discussing his Trump endorsement with Ingraham on April 19, Vance defended his old anti-Trump statements. (In 2016, Vance repeatedly said racism was the reason so many people gravitated to Trump.) Ingraham complimented him on his beard and favorably compared Vance to other politicians who “came around” to Trump after his successful campaign.
- Vance promoted a vaccine conspiracy theory on the January 10 edition of Carlson’s program. Carlson opened up by mentioning that Vance had attended Yale Law School, boasting that the school “has produced the most Supreme Court justices lately.”
- On the February 4 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Vance and Carlson agreed that we may as well get rid of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
- On the February 23 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson praised Vance, proclaiming, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard a candidate for high office speak as honestly as concisely as you just did and I really hope you’re rewarded for it.” Carlson was responding to Vance saying that “this Ukraine crisis … has nothing to do with our national security.”
- Based on Media Matters’ internal database, Vance has appeared on OAN’s Real America with Dan Ball at least 3 times in 2022. On March 28, after airing a clip of Vance saying Ukrainian aid should be contingent on increased funding for border security at the Ohio GOP Senate debate, Ball boasted that Vance sounded like “yours truly” and praised him for his position.
Mandel’s pursuit of right-wing media approval
Former Ohio state treasurer and two-time failed Senate candidate Mandel has gotten some right-wing media attention, albeit overshadowed by the avalanche of attention given to Vance. Mandel has been avidly pro-Trump since 2016, but he did not recieve the former president’s endorsement for this run, likely in part because of interference from Vance ally Tucker Carlson. Mandel does have one vehement ally in right-wing media, Fox host Mark Levin, who endorsed Mandel over Vance, suggesting Vance was a puppet of right-wing billionaire Peter Thiel. Despite his one ally of Levin, Mandel has fairly limited support among right-wing media figures:
- On April 25, Mandel appeared on Levin’s radio show and argued he was always pro-Trump, while Vance had once been “a registered Democrat living in San Fransisco.” Levin praised him, saying, “I sure as hell hope you are” the nominee.
- Mandel also appeared on OAN prime-time at least 3 times in 2022, where he repeatedly pushed extremist xenophobic and anti-Muslim views. While on Dan Ball’s show on January 18, Ball praised him, saying, “I love that you served your country and now you see how horrible things are being operated in Washington, D.C.” He then called Mandel a “citizen legislator” and directed his audience to Mandel’s campaign site.