JD Vance has become the latest candidate to win Donald Trump’s coveted endorsement in a Republican primary this year.
Vance, who dragged in the crowded Ohio Senate race, joined more than 130 candidates Trump is betting as a test of his continued influence in GOP politics. The author had previously criticized the former president, but Trump concluded that Vance “now gets it” in his endorsement announcement.
The former venture capitalist may now be the candidate with the most significant business experience that Trump is asking voters to send to Washington for the first time.
He is far from alone.
Trump himself remains obsessed with maintaining control of the Republican Party and forcing any candidate to express loyalty to him and his false claims regarding the 2020 election.
Their business backgrounds run the gamut from personalities like Vance, who had a significant and apparently lucrative business careers, to others who have found their business record a stumbling block as they try to please Republican primary voters.
Here are some highlights from the resumes of non-incumbents Trump has endorsed for U.S. Senate and House seats.
Prominent business circles
Vance is a protege of billionaire entrepreneur Peter Thiel and previously worked as a director at Mithril Capital, Thiel’s company. The best-selling author of “Hillbilly Elegy” also raised $93 million to set up his own venture capital firm called Narya Capital with a mission to spread money around the Midwest. He got it off the ground with support from big hitters like Thiel, Marc Andreessen and Eric Schmidt.
Vance discusses the business part of his biography on his campaign website saying his work “focuses on growing businesses that create well-paying jobs”. In his endorsement, Trump did not directly reference Vance’s trade credentials, but noted that he “understands how to use taxes and tariffs to hold China accountable.” [and] will fight to break Big Tech.
Other candidates who have won Trump’s endorsement have also worked in the worlds of big business and high finance.
Morgan Ortagus — Trump’s well-known ally and Fox News regular — won Trump’s imprimatur in his effort to overthrow a House seat in Tennessee. She is widely known for her work as a spokesperson for the State Department, but she also worked at Standard Chartered Bank and at Ernst & Young for periods focused on geopolitical issues.
Another endorsement has big tech ties: John Gibbs is running to Michigan after a career in Silicon Valley. He touts he worked on cybersecurity issues at Symantec – now known as NortonLifeLock (NLOK) – and at Apple (AAPL) where he worked on the first version of the iPhone.
Gibbs is working to bring down GOP Representative Peter Meijer, whose family founded the popular grocery chain in the Midwest. meijer too voted to impeach Trump after Jan. 6, a fact that is more important to Trump. Trump used a recent rally in Michigan to support Gibbs and make fun of Meijer’s name.
Other prominent Trump favorites have seen their business ties as a mixed blessing as they try to navigate Republican primary politics.
In the race for the Pennsylvania Senate, Trump has took a bet on Mehmet Oz who is currently locked in a contentious primary against former Bridgewater Associates CEO David McCormick.
McCormick has deep business convictions and is a close associate of legendary investor and founder of Bridgewater Associates, Ray Dalio.
Oz and McCormick’s business ties – particularly ties to China – have become an issue in the race as Oz seeks to paint his opponent as overly sympathetic to China. Yet Oz himself had to face with its own ties to China.
As part of his activities around his long-running TV show, Oz himself is said to have promoted projects in China and introduced his TV show to Chinese viewers.
In Georgia, Trump favorite Herschel Walker is running for the Senate and is as he says the “CEO of several companies”.
Some of his businesses – like a food company called Renaissance Man Foods – are undoubtedly real but Walker has long been pursued by has accusations of exaggerated claims of financial success, including in one case apparently pretend to own a business that doesn’t seem to exist.
Small business owners
Of course, there are plenty of candidates who have run small businesses and are making the experience a centerpiece of their pitch to voters.
Representative Ted Budd – who currently represents North Carolina in the US House and is seeking promotion to the Senate – claims he is the “owner of the ProShots gun store and line” on his website and in his Twitter bio. John James, running in Michigan, helps run his family’s logistics business.
As Trump noted in his endorsement of James, “John is not only tough, but he’s also very smart – he got his master’s degree in supply chain management,” adding that “what is what is more important during a supply chain crisis than a supply chain expert?”
In Wisconsin, Derrick Van Orden brags his time as a Navy SEAL and “consultant with Fortune 500 companies” in the private sector, but take the time to note his role in the reopening of the “Butternut Cafe” in Wisconsin.
It’s “a gathering place for friends and family,” its website says.
Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.
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