(PresidentialHill.com)- Last week, the Silicon Valley billionaire, Peter Thiel, decided he wanted to give even more to help J.D. Vance in the Ohio Republican Senate race.
Thiel had contributed $15 million to Vance, the most ever given to a single Senate candidate. With Vance’s victory in Tuesday’s primary, Thiel, the PayPal co-founder and early Facebook investor, have struck gold again.
Vance was a gamble. His campaign was outspent, and he had a history of anti-Trump sentiments that may have alienated GOP primary supporters. In February, his campaign experienced a disastrous polling data breach that sank his finances and triggered a forensic investigation for a possible mole.
Surprisingly, a competing campaign had obtained some of the Vance operation’s most secret documents, allowing them a sneak peek into their intentions.
Unlike his opponents, who spent millions on TV advertisements, Vance relied on free media coverage from conservative sites.
In contrast to his opponents, who made frequent excursions to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort to get Trump’s endorsement, Vance stayed away, winning over the image-conscious former president, who told Vance he had a “beautiful” golf swing and was a “handsome son of a b—-.”
A partnered super PAC’s Republican strategist, Luke Thompson, says J.D. has to forge his way. Taking the standard route to success was out of the question.
During the early stages of the primary, when his opponents were vying for Trump’s endorsement, Vance was obliged to focus on keeping the former president from criticizing him. Affirming his disdain for the former president during the 2016 campaign, Vance asked on Twitter: “What proportion of the American people has @RealDonaldTrump sexually assaulted?”
Such remarks usually enrage Trump, prompting Vance to try to calm him during a spring 2021 encounter at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. During the sit-down, which Thiel accompanied, and Trump Jr. also attended. Vance claimed that he shared Trump’s populist values. The candidate also befriended Trump’s oldest son, who would become Vance’s closest buddy in the former president’s entourage.
Vance’s poll ratings were rising by the fall, and the ice seemed to be melting between Trump and Vance. But soon after, the Club for Growth, which backed Vance’s opponent Josh Mandel, smacked him with TV commercials highlighting his anti-Trump sentiments.
Trump seemed to go cold on him.
The Club ads “killed him dead,” Trump told pals, despite liking J.D.
Thompson emailed Thiel’s team and other contributors a note last autumn to shoulder much of the weight that the Vance campaign couldn’t.
As a first-time candidate, Vance lacked a donor network capable of matching his competitors’ resources. The discrepancy was evident in the campaigns: Vance had a one-person communications team.
As the primary began, the super PAC assumed duties usually assigned to campaigns: It established a massive data operation, texted supporters to attend Vance’s appearances, and organized tele-town halls with the candidate. But the most stunning move was not in the message.
Thompson put up a public website shortly after Vance announced his campaign last summer, publishing thousands of pages of polling data, memoranda rating Vance’s opponents’ strengths and weaknesses, and a 177-page opposition research book documenting all possible attacks. There were campaign phrases to utilize and advice on how to get Trump to back Vance.
It was everything on display for anyone to see. But it was for the Vance campaign.
The site, housed on the Medium platform, was @protectohiovaluesforms. It allowed the super PAC to openly communicate with the Vance campaign without violating federal regulations limiting outside group collaboration with campaigns. The Vance campaign might use the Thiel-funded super PAC’s resources by accessing the website.
While both parties have created comparable websites, the amount of material on the Medium site — and the risk connected with it — sets it apart.
To keep funders and supporters interested, Thompson, who worked for the big-spending super PAC that backed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in 2016, took risks and innovated.
The Vance team had reason to be apprehensive.
After the Club for Growth’s blistering TV blitz, Vance was dealt a significant blow: a 98-page internal polling report published in POLITICO indicating that Vance was in “precipitous decline.”
Donors withdrew their funds, and the super PAC looked for the leaker. Thompson contrasted early drafts of the memo to the final version. He checked the server logs and asked his data team, Deep Root Analytics, for help.
Thompson whittled down a list of suspects but never landed on one.
Another issue arose: Mandel’s campaign had discovered Medium and was mining it for information. The Mandel team had spent months looking through polling data, race memoranda, and advertising budgets to change their approach.
It was a shocking breach, allowing one of Vance’s main competitors into his business.
The pro-Vance super PAC was unaware of the eavesdropping since they couldn’t identify the visitors.
While Vance’s opponents spent millions on TV advertising, the cash-strapped candidate earned free media attention by campaigning as a fiery populist. He appeared on Breitbart News, Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast, and Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show. He urged for “mass civil disobedience” against vaccination mandates and argued against US involvement in Russia’s conflict with Ukraine.
Vance’s stance on Ukraine alienated funders and went against popular sentiment, which favored providing supplies if not American soldiers. But he made up for it with media attention. Since June 1, 2021, Vance has been cited more than 7,200 times in the media, more than twice as much as Mandel.
In addition to re-branding himself as a conservative after being labeled anti-Trump,
Thompson wrote on Medium in February that Vance could focus on immigration and border security because of his mother’s drug problem. The document concluded that the issue was essential to primary voters and may help Trump win their support.
Later the same month, Vance spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida, focusing on immigration. And, as his super PAC predicted, the campaign’s first TV commercial showed Vance telling viewers he “almost lost” his “mother to the poison going across our border.”
The fight for Trump’s endorsement heated up as winter gave way to spring, and everyone involved understood it would certainly determine the final nominee.
While Trump was aware of Vance’s earlier criticisms, supporters like Carlson and Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley urged him to support him. He had lately seen Vance playing golf at Mar-a-Lago, and praised his swing and looks. But it was Vance’s performance in the debates that prompted Trump to endorse his former foe.
Trump had met with Mandel and fellow contender Mike Gibbons. But a video of the two nearly fighting in March repulsed him. The president informed aides he was unhappy with all candidates, save Vance, after seeing a subsequent debate in full.
Donald Trump Jr., a personal friend of Vance, was close to endorsing the campaign publicly. In March, after some of Vance’s opponents advocated a European-led no-fly zone over Ukraine, the younger Trump praised him on Twitter as “100% America First.”
Vance’s team knew they had to improve his poll numbers to obtain Trump’s endorsement, which had shown him lagging throughout the primary. So the super PAC would risk it all.
On Feb. 10, Thompson shared a photo of an atomic bomb with the message “Bombs away” on Medium. The next day, the group spent millions on a TV ad campaign praising Vance.
In mid-April, Trump contacted a Thiel colleague and said he was close to backing Vance. Thiel, a mentor and financial sponsor of Vance’s Narya venture capital business, was crucial for the contender. Thiel contributed millions to the pro-Vance super PAC and sponsored a December fundraiser.
On April 15, Trump officially endorsed Vance, giving him the win. The candidate rose to the top of the polls in days.
On Tuesday night, Vance received a congratulatory phone call from Trump.