Interview met J.D. Vance



What J.D. Vance Believes


In 2016, J.D. Vance’s best-selling memoir, “Hillbilly Elegy,” made him one of America’s leading interpreters of Trumpism, offering a personal narrative of populism’s origins in working-class disarray.

In 2024, as a first-term United States senator from Ohio, Vance is arguably America’s leading Trumpist: a staunch ally of Donald Trump, a leading critic of the establishment consensus (or what remains of it) in both foreign and domestic politics, a potential vice-presidential candidate and a likely populist agenda-setter for a second Trump term.

The Vance of eight years ago was read with appreciation and gratitude by Trump opponents looking for a window into populism. The Vance of today is despised and feared by many of the same kind of people. His transformation is one of the most striking political stories of the Trump era, and one that’s likely to influence Republican politics even after Trump is gone.

I’ve known Vance since before he assumed either of these identities. For this conversation, I spoke to him about how he sees his own evolution, his relationship to the American elite and to Trump himself, his views on populist economics and America’s support for Ukraine. He also offered a combative (and, to my mind, fundamentally unsupported and unpersuasive) defense of Trump’s conduct after the 2020 election. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.


J.D., the first time I realized that your book, “Hillbilly Elegy,” was going to be a phenomenon was August of 2016. I was in Rockland, Maine, in a cozy little tourist bookstore. I tried to buy the book for my wife, and they said, “Oh, we had four or five copies and they all sold out in the last week.”

Looking back, almost certainly most of the people who bought the book in that little bookstore were educated liberals baffled by the Donald Trump phenomenon, who liked your book not just for its literary merits, but also because they felt like here was a guy who was sympathetic to people voting for Trump, but who was also at that time vehemently opposed to him.

So I thought it would be interesting for you to imagine yourself talking to a big “Hillbilly Elegy” fan from 2016, and talk him through how your perspective has changed.

There was one really good thing about “Hillbilly Elegy,” meaning the response to it: People were actually genuinely trying to understand something about a part of the country they didn’t understand. But there was something that wasn’t so good, which is that people were looking for some interpretive lens for Trump’s voters that never really asked them to challenge their priors or to rethink what they felt about those people. And I realized that I was being used as this whisperer of a phenomenon that some people really did want to understand, but some people didn’t. And the more that I felt like, not an explainer and a defender, but part of what I thought was wrong about the liberal establishment, the more that I felt this need to go very strongly away from it.

Let me give you one story: In 2018, I was invited to an event hosted by the Business Roundtable, an organization of C.E.O.s. Many people there I like and admire; many people there who hate my guts ——


Not back then.

Not back then; everybody loved me back then. But I was seated next to the C.E.O. of one of the largest hotel chains in the world at dinner. He was almost a caricature of a business executive, complaining about how he was forced to pay his workers higher wages.

He said: “The labor market is super tight. What Trump has done at the border has completely forced me to change the way that I interact with my employees.” And then he pivoted to me: “Well, you understand this as well as anybody. These people just need to get off their asses, come to work and do their job. And now, because we can’t hire immigrants, or as many immigrants, we’ve got to hire these people at higher wages.”

The fact that this guy saw me as sympathetic to his problem, and not the problem of the workers, made me realize that I’m on a train that has its own momentum and I have to get off this train, or I’m going to wake up in 10 years and really hate everything that I’ve become. And so I decided to get off that train, and I felt like the only way that I could do that was, in some ways, alienating and offending people who liked my book.

Did your perspective on, let’s say, elite liberals change more in that time, or did your perspective on anti-Trump, business-class Republicans change more?

Oh, both. I think it’s very hard to say which group of people I felt more strongly about. I literally grew up in a family where my grandmother was negotiating with the Meals on Wheels person to give her more food so that both of us could have something to eat. And I was going to the Sun Valley billionaires boot camp. My life had completely transformed.


The people on the left, I would say, whose politics I’m open to — it’s the Bernie Bros. But generally, center-left liberals who are doing very well, and center-right conservatives who are doing very well, have an incredible blind spot about how much their success is built on a system that is not serving people who they should be serving.

So you reach a point where you feel like you don’t want to be on the same side as, let’s say, the non-Sanders voting fans of your book. How do you go from there to being actively pro-Trump?

I was confronted with the reality that part of the reason the anti-Trump conservatives hated Donald Trump was that he represented a threat to a way of doing things in this country that has been very good for them.

Go back to the election in 2016. If you’re so inclined, you can say, “Well, Trump’s not really making a criticism of the foreign policy consensus in Washington, D.C. Here’s this thing that he said in 2003 that suggested that he supports invading Iraq — he’s just using this now that it’s politically useful.” I made that argument myself. But the more complete truth is that the country never really litigated the mistakes of the bipartisan consensus until Donald Trump came along, and on the right, nobody had litigated the failures of George W. Bush until Donald Trump came along.

Like a lot of other elite conservatives and elite liberals, I allowed myself to focus so much on the stylistic element of Trump that I completely ignored the way in which he substantively was offering something very different on foreign policy, on trade, on immigration.


You voted for Trump in 2020?

I did.

For a lot of Republicans I know, the process of becoming a Trump supporter was different. It was not about deciding that they could live with Trump’s persona because they agreed with his populist critique. It was more that they decided that Trump’s liberal opponents were so terrible in various ways that they needed to support Trump. So you had people who talk about the Kavanaugh hearings as a radicalizing point, or the rise of wokeness. I’m curious what you think about that.

This is why I say it’s hard to reconstruct this stuff, it’s so gradual. My wife worked for Kavanaugh, loved the guy — kind of a dork. Never believed these stories. You start looking around and say, “If they can do this to him, can they just do this to any of us?” An incredible campaign of character assassination. I think that [pause; sigh] — I’m trying to make this somewhat appealing to Times readers because probably a lot of them assume Kavanaugh is guilty.


If you hadn’t known him, you think you would’ve been more open to that idea?

I don’t know. Maybe. The thing that I kept thinking about liberalism in 2019 and 2020 is that these guys have all read Carl Schmitt — there’s no law, there’s just power. And the goal here is to get back in power. Seemed true in the Kavanaugh thing, seemed true in the Black Lives Matter moment, where. … I’m thinking about how to put this.

I think most of us who are generally socially aware have a voice in our head that says: “You shouldn’t say this; you should try to say that. Maybe you believe this, but you should try to put it a little bit more diplomatically.” And in 2020 that voice had become absolutely tyrannical. There was nothing you were allowed to say. Offending someone was an act of violence. I think a lot of us just said: “We’re done with this. We’re not playing this game, and we refuse to be policed in what we think and what we say.”

Then you recognized that a lot of the pushback to Trump was that kind of social pressure. “You like Donald Trump? But he said these things, and he said that thing.” I saw this in my book tour in 2016. If you even acknowledged that there were reasonable things that Donald Trump was saying, there was this complete overreaction. And I think that some of us, me included, started to ask ourselves — there’s a voice in your head that tells you what you’re allowed to say and who you’re allowed to vote for. It was clearly deranged in 2020. Well, maybe it was deranged in 2016, too?


Is there anything you’ve said that you regret, in the course of refusing to be policed?

There are a ton of things I can point to where I can say, “I wish I struck this balance a little bit differently,” but I think that the real danger in American society is not unfiltering yourself, it’s filtering yourself.

Let me put the question differently. One interpretation of why conservatives trust Trump is that by saying things that are offensive to the conventions of elite liberalism, he’s effectively burning his ships. He can never just go back to being host of “The Apprentice.” And one interpretation of your Senate campaign was that you were consciously doing the same thing, that you were trying to piss liberals off to make yourself seem more trustworthy to Republican voters. Did you think about it that way?

I didn’t think about it quite that way, but before I ran, I had this conversation with myself and my wife that if my underlying critique is correct, there’s no way to run the campaign without burning bridges. You have to self-consciously accept that previous friends of yours are going to think you’re a bad person. Famously, my first TV ad ——

Why don’t you describe that ad?

Most TV ads are written by consultants; this was written by me. I picked up on the campaign trail that there was a strong undercurrent of people who cared about immigration, who didn’t like being called racist for it, and so I decided to do a direct-to-camera ad: “Are you racist? Do you hate Mexicans?” And then I go into: “No, we’re not. This is why we care about the border; this is why I care about the border.” And that ad was very effective. Again, am I trying to trigger the libs by doing that? No. But am I consciously not allowing myself to be filtered by them? Absolutely.

When did you decide that you actually like Donald Trump?

I first met Trump in 2021. One of the stories he told me was about how some of our generals were changing the timings of troop redeployments in the Middle East so that they could tell him that the troop levels were coming down when in reality they were just changing the way in which troop levels jump up and down in the short term.


[Interviewer’s note: In a follow-up, Vance cited remarks by Trump’s departing Syria envoy, James Jeffrey, in 2020, that “we were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there,” as partial confirmation of the story that the former president had relayed.]

The media has this view of Trump as motivated entirely by personal grievance, and the thing he talked the most about — this was not long after Jan. 6 — was “I’m the president, and I told the generals to do something, and they didn’t do it.” And I was like, OK, this guy’s deeper than I’d given him credit for. And also I was deeply offended by this. Talk about a threat to democracy — the generals not listening to the president of the United States about matters like troop redeployment.

But just personally, I like him. At one point during my election, some negative story had come out, and I get a phone call out of the blue. “Hey, just wanted to let you know you’re doing a good job. You always hear from the most hateful voices, but there’s a lot of love out there. Don’t forget there’s a lot of love out there. Just stay with it.” He’s much more complex than the media gives him credit for. People think that this guy is motivated entirely by personal grievance and by power, and that he just wants to become president so that he can destroy American democracy. That’s not at all who he is.

I want to come back to the democracy question, but first let’s talk about policy. Do you think, generally, that there is a comprehensive populist economic agenda?

Well, have one. The main thrust of the postwar American order of globalization has involved relying more and more on cheaper labor. The trade issue and the immigration issue are two sides of the same coin: The trade issue is cheaper labor overseas; the immigration issue is cheaper labor at home, which applies upward pressure on a whole host of services, from hospital services to housing and so forth.


The populist vision, at least as it exists in my head, is an inversion of that: applying as much upward pressure on wages and as much downward pressure on the services that the people use as possible. We’ve had far too little innovation over the last 40 years, and far too much labor substitution. This is why I think the economics profession is fundamentally wrong about both immigration and about tariffs. Yes, tariffs can apply upward pricing pressure on various things — though I think it’s massively overstated — but when you are forced to do more with your domestic labor force, you have all of these positive dynamic effects.

It’s a classic formulation: You raise the minimum wage to $20 an hour, and you will sometimes hear libertarians say this is a bad thing. “Well, isn’t McDonald’s just going to replace some of the workers with kiosks?” That’s a good thing, because then the workers who are still there are going to make higher wages; the kiosks will perform a useful function; and that’s the kind of rising tide that actually lifts all boats. What is not good is you replace the McDonald’s worker from Middletown, Ohio, who makes $17 an hour with an immigrant who makes $15 an hour. And that is, I think, the main thrust of elite liberalism, whether people acknowledge it or not.

Or the hotels example. If you cannot hire illegal migrants to staff your hotels, then you have to go to one of the seven million prime-age American men who are out of the labor force and find some way to re-engage them. It’s amazing: To this day, I hear from Republican donors, “Oh, I’ll support you because you’re Republican, but you’re not pro-business.” Well, what do you mean I’m not pro-business? I actually really agree with the classic libertarian critique of the regulatory regime. “But we can’t run our business unless we have some of these immigrants coming over, because we can’t find people who are going to do the job.” My response is that there are people who would do those jobs if the incentives were there.

The first Trump term did raise wages at the bottom. But Trump ran the economy hot — low interest rates, low taxes — and we’re in a different landscape now, where policymakers seem like they’re stuck choosing between high interest rates, spending cuts and tax increases. I’m curious how you think a populist agenda looks different now.

You can’t just run the economy at massive structural deficits indefinitely. But I also think there’s a lot you can do on the regulatory side — make building nuclear facilities easier, make building natural gas pipelines easier, make building housing easier — that doesn’t cost money and in fact brings in money.


But a nonpopulist Republican would talk a lot more about fiscal discipline. And regardless of your long-term structural plan for the economy, Social Security is going to need some kind of adjustment. The populist move has been to rule out the idea of cutting entitlement spending. But can populists ever raise taxes?

Well, as the libertarians always say, a tariff is a tax. [laughs]

That’s an answer.

I just think the financial problems here are downstream of much deeper problems. One way of understanding the Social Security problem is, old people can’t work, young people can, babies can’t. So people at a certain age support the babies and the old people. And typically in our society, that’s people between the ages of 18 and 65. If the argument here is we have to cut Social Security, then what you’re effectively saying is we just have to privatize what is currently a public problem of who pays for the older generation. And I don’t know why people think that you solve many problems by taking a bunch of elderly people and saying, “You’re on your own.”

OK, but in lieu of privatizing the problem, Social Security’s going to need more money. Is the Vance position that the money comes from tariffs?

OK, take those seven million prime-age men not in the labor force. Those people are supported, very often, by public resources. You shift millions of those men from not working to working; you increase wages across the board; you increase tariffs; and I think that you buy yourself a whole hell of a lot more than the nine or 10 years that the actuaries say that we have. You get more revenue, yes, from tariffs, but from more people being in the labor force, from higher productivity growth, from higher wages, from transitioning young people who are not working into the work force.

Could you get some money by raising taxes on the rich guy who complained to you about his workers?

Sure. I’m not philosophically against raising taxes on anybody. But you have to ask yourself, what are the taxes that we’re raising, and where are they coming from? Let’s just say you raise the marginal rate to 42 percent. How much revenue does that actually raise?


Raising middle tax classes — I don’t like that idea for obvious reasons. You can get some revenue out of raising taxes on wealthy Americans, but there’s no way that you can run an economy at a structural growth rate of around 1 percent with demographics that are getting worse and worse and worse, and solve the problem by taxing rich people. You have to fix the underlying issue.

How would you describe your foreign policy perspective?

Not as “Putin first,” as maybe your readers would say ——

I asked how you would describe it.

I’m very self-aware, Ross. Many flaws, that’s not one of them. The term “realist” gets thrown around a lot, and I’d say there are three pillars to realism in the 21st century: The first is that moralisms about “This country is good,” “This country is bad” are largely useless, and we should be dealing with other countries based on whether they’re good or bad for America’s interests. That doesn’t mean you have a complete moral blind spot, but it means that you have to be honest about the countries that you’re dealing with, and there’s a complete failure to do that with most of our foreign policy establishment in this country.

No. 2 is the most important lesson of World War II, that we seem to have forgotten: that military power is downstream of industrial power. We are still, right now, the world’s military superpower, largely because of our industrial might from the ’80s and ’90s. But China is a more powerful country industrially than we are, which means they will have a more powerful military in 20 years.

And No. 3 is acknowledging that we’re in a multipolar world, and we need allies to step up in big ways so that we can focus on East Asia, which is where our most significant competitor is for the next 20 or 30 years.


Should we defend Taiwan if it’s attacked?

Our policy effectively is one of strategic ambiguity. I think that we should make it as hard as possible for China to take Taiwan in the first place, and the honest answer is we’ll figure out what we do if they attack. The thing that we can control now is making it costly for them to invade Taiwan, and we’re not doing that because we’re sending all the damn weapons to Ukraine and not Taiwan.



In the opinion piece you wrote for us, you were very critical of the aid that we were giving to Ukraine. But at the end of the piece, you seemed open to the idea of supporting Ukraine in a defensive posture.

From a certain perspective, that is what the Biden administration has done. Yes, they supported two Ukrainian counteroffensives, one of which went well and one of which did not. But relative to more hawkish voices, including in your own party, they have tried to avoid direct confrontation with Russia. So I’m curious what you think has been so wrong with their strategy. I know you think we shouldn’t have encouraged the recent counteroffensive ——

That’s the most important divergence between me and the Biden administration. I thought the counteroffensive would be a disaster, that we were motivated by moralism and not enough by strategic thinking. The Russians had really adjusted in a lot of profound ways. It was extremely obvious, when you talked to our military leadership in classified settings, they were exceedingly skeptical that the Ukrainians would achieve any strategic breakthrough. OK, why are we doing this then?

Is there a more minimalist J.D. Vance plan that would involve limited defensive support for Ukraine as part of a path to armistice?


What I would like to do, and what I think fundamentally is achievable here with American leadership — but you never know till you have the conversation — is you freeze the territorial lines somewhere close to where they are right now. That’s No. 1. No. 2 is you guarantee both Kyiv’s independence but also its neutrality. It’s the fundamental thing the Russians have asked from the beginning. I’m not naïve here. I think the Russians have asked for a lot of things dishonestly, but neutrality is clearly something that they see as existential for them. And then three, there’s going to have to be some American security assistance over the long term. I think those three things are certainly achievable, yes.

The critique of you and everyone else who opposed the recent appropriation was that if you can’t demonstrate a durable commitment to Ukraine, then Russia doesn’t have any incentive to make peace. If the Russians think they’re winning, how do you give Putin an incentive to make a deal if you’re cutting funding?

The leverage that we have over the Russians is not, in my view, that we can indefinitely keep the Ukrainians in a successful defensive posture. Let me be clear about this: There is no way with our capacity and what Russia has been doing that we can hold off the Russians indefinitely.

There are two big points of leverage that we have. One, they could take over Ukraine, but they can’t govern Ukraine. We’re talking about multiple hundreds of thousands of troops to govern the country effectively as a Russian subsidiary. The second point of leverage that we have is a war economy has its own internal momentum. They’re now at 7 percent of G.D.P. being spent on defense. They have re-engineered an economy around fighting a war instead of around improving the lives of your people. That has some real problems over the long term.

By the way, it’s not in our interest, either, for the Russians to have a war economy for the next five years, because then they’re going to be more militaristic and aggressive than they otherwise would be.


You agree it’s not in our interest right now for the Russians to roll through the rest of Ukraine?

No, it is not in our interest.

Let’s go back to Trump. You used the term “stylistic” to describe the things you didn’t like about Trump in 2016. Obviously, people who oppose Trump think that style and substance are intertwined, and that Trumpism is a substantive threat to democratic norms. That argument got a really big boost on the 6th of January, 2021. So, first, what’s your take on the legitimacy of the 2020 election?

First of all, grant that there is overlap between style and substance. I think this is actually, in the foreign policy arena especially, a strength of Trump, and not a weakness. Trump is, as his detractors and his supporters would say, unpredictable. He is extremely self-aware of that perception, and without revealing state secrets, I am 100 percent certain that unpredictability redounded to the benefit of the United States.

I have two basic critiques of the 2020 election, and then I have a critique of the reaction to what Trump did.

My actual critique starts with the Molly Ball article in 2021 — that felt like bragging. I put that article in front of the average Trump-fan Republican voter in my hometown, and they say, “That is an illegitimate election.”


[Interviewer’s note: Vance is referencing Ball’s postelection Time magazine feature detailing the attempts to “fortify” the 2020 election against Trumpian malfeasance and pandemic disruptions, efforts that Ball described as “a well-funded cabal of powerful people, ranging across industries and ideologies, working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage and control the flow of information.”]

The argument is basically that there were a host of institutional actors, technology companies, various forms of censorship, that mobilized in 2020 in a way that they hadn’t in 2016. There was tech censorship. People were primed to push back against any October surprises.

And look, October surprises are part of American democracy, and whether you think Hunter Biden is as major an issue as I do or disagree, in American democracy you let the voters decide.

That was a way in which the basic democratic will of America was obstructed. I don’t see any reason to think that Dominion voting machines switched ballots, but there was a breakdown in democratic will.

Point No. 2 is that the rules of the game were changed in the middle. When does a ballot have to be mailed in Pennsylvania to count under the election rules? That was changed. That was changed for Covid reasons, in a way that partially is the fault of the Republican National Committee — we weren’t prepared for it, Democrats were, and they took advantage of it.


And this gets to my third point, the critique of people like me as violating some sacred norm of American democracy. I never could get fired up about this. I think the election in 1960 was stolen. The election of 2000 had some issues. I think that challenging elections and questioning the legitimacy of elections is actually part of the democratic process. When Trump says the election was stolen, and people say he was wrong, I say, “Fine, we can argue about that.” When they say, “He’s threatening the foundation of American society,” I can’t help but roll my eyes.

OK, but Donald Trump was president of the United States while those changes to voting rules were being made. And Rudy Giuliani was not standing up complaining about, say, Mark Zuckerberg’s funding for get-out-the-vote efforts. They went for the straight-up voter fraud narratives, which yielded the idea that Mike Pence was going to somehow send this back to the states to be relitigated, which yielded Jan. 6. What was the point of all that? Fine, you can challenge the sacred norms of democracy, but the way they were challenged was, by your own argument, paranoid and probably wrong.

Well, if you want me to defend Sidney Powell and Jenna Ellis in the aftermath of the 2020 election, they made a lot of arguments I disagreed with. If the criticism is, when Tucker Carlson called me in July and said, “Dude, I think they’re going to steal the election over a lot of these changed balloting rules,” the R.N.C. should’ve been mobilizing and responding to that, and they failed, and that was a huge indictment of the R.N.C. — then yeah, absolutely, I agree with that.

But once that failed, did it make any sense to use the office of the vice presidency to shift the outcome of the election?

The vice-presidential thing — look, here’s what this would’ve looked like if you really wanted to do this. You would’ve actually tried to go to the states that had problems; you would try to marshal alternative slates of electors, like they did in the election of 1876. And then you have to actually prosecute that case; you have to make an argument to the American people.


Let’s say you were a Republican legislator in Pennsylvania. Do you think it would have been a good idea to say, “Under the rules of the election, Joe Biden won the most votes, but we’re going to vote to send a slate of Trump electors because Twitter censored the Hunter Biden story.”

Do I think that it would have been an ultimately effective argument?

No, do you think it would have been a good argument?

I think the entire post-2020 thing would have gone a lot better if there had actually been an effort to provide alternative slates of electors, and to force us to have that debate. I think it would’ve been a much better thing for the country. Do I think Joe Biden would still be president right now? Yeah, probably. But at least we would have had a debate. And instead what we had was the Jenna Ellis legal clown show and no real debate about the election. And now every time we bring it up, it’s like, “Well, yeah, they litigated all these things.” No, you can’t litigate these things judicially; you have to litigate them politically. And we never had a real political debate about the 2020 election.

You mentioned the 1876 election. The 1876 election was effectively a constitutional crisis, right?

Sure. It was absolutely a constitutional crisis.

For those of us who don’t think that Donald Trump is about to become a dictator, it still seems like he has an appetite for constitutional crisis. Pursuing the Pence strategy might not have ended with Trump back in the White House. But it would have pushed America into a crisis whose only point would be to satisfy either the voters whose concerns you describe, or Trump himself.


Even under a circumstance where the alternative-electors thing works, and he’s president again, he would have served four years and retired and enjoyed his life and played golf. The idea that this sets off a sequence where Donald Trump becomes the dictator of America is completely preposterous. He was using the constitutional procedures. Now, your argument is that he was using them ineffectively, or maybe even illegitimately, but he was trying to take a constitutional process to its natural conclusion.

My argument is that he was using them recklessly, without concern for the effect on the body politic of him becoming president because he got state legislatures to vote in alternate slates of electors.

My counterargument to that is that what was reckless was the effort to try to take this very legitimate grievance over our most fundamental democratic act as a people, and completely suppress concerns about it.

This is maybe where you think I’ve just jumped the shark, but if there’s a constitutional crisis I’m worried about, it’s not Donald Trump using a process that exists in our Constitution. It’s that he was the commander in chief and ordered the military to do something and the military didn’t.

Why can’t it be both? Why can’t you say, “It was wrong the way the military and the administrative state behaved under Trump, and it also would’ve been a really, really bad idea for Mike Pence to intervene on Jan. 6”?


If the conservative response to this is to say “both sides are bad,” and the liberal response to this is to say “it’s fine when my side does it, and it’s bad when the other side does it,” the liberals will always win the argument in this country. I really don’t believe this is about some deep principle; this is about power.

Don’t you think that doing the right thing sometimes enhances your power? If Trump had walked away, if he hadn’t spent so much time pressuring Pence, don’t you think he might be ahead in the polls by more right now?

I want to be clear: I’m not conceding the premise that Trump was engaged in something fundamentally bad here. But maybe you’re right that if Trump had just gotten into the helicopter and ridden off, that he would be in a better position today. Maybe. But an entire section of our democratic republic would’ve had their concerns ignored.

There are meaningful improvements that have been made on election integrity, like the Georgia voter ID law, which would never have happened without this massive public debate. And I think it would’ve been extraordinarily disappointing to a whole host of people that I care a lot about if Trump had just taken it. In his very unique way, he gave voice to a series of concerns.

But there was also a riot in the midst of the peaceful transfer of power. The argument that you’re making, I could’ve imagined myself making up till ——


On Jan. 5.

Exactly. But it just seems like this is a case where, with Trump, you turn the dial and — even if you think dial-turning is a good way to intimidate Putin or Kim Jong-un — sometimes you turn it too far.

I think people really, really underrate the sense to which there is palpable and actionable frustration, and I’m always surprised that their assumption appears to be that Trump is the worst, rather than the best, expression of that frustration. Or at least, one of the better in the whole host of possibilities. We’re in this moment where people are really pissed off, and I think for legitimate reasons. And I don’t understand, looking at the country that we have right now, and saying, “The riot on January the 6th was the worst expression of this.”

If Donald Trump asked you to be his running mate, would you accept?

I’ll give you the stock answer: I’ve never talked about it with him, which is genuine. I don’t get the sense that he’s focused on it. If he asked me, certainly I would be interested, but I’m trying not to think too much about it until he actually asks.