In the days before Donald Trump endorsed J.D. Vance in Ohio’s Republican Senate primary, the former president huddled with his son, Don Jr., and several staffers at Mar-a-Lago. On the phone was Fox News host Tucker Carlson, a major ally of Vance’s.
After promising Trump that Vance was with him on the issues despite the candidate’s past anti-Trump comments, Carlson — according to three sources familiar with the matter — turned to a lurid closing argument. “You can’t trust” David McIntosh, the president of the conservative Club for Growth and a top backer of Vance’s rival Josh Mandel, Carlson claimed. McIntosh had just concluded his own phone call with Trump during that same midday meeting. The reason, Carlson asserted, is that McIntosh has an embarrassing and “chronic” personal sexual habit.
Rolling Stone cannot confirm the claim and will not repeat it. But during that phone call, the twice-impeached former president spent a notable amount of time gossiping and laughing about the prominent Republican’s penis and how “fucking disgusting” and “fucking gross” he allegedly was.
Trump had already displayed a long, abiding interest in Mandel’s own sex life, having spent months privately regurgitating and spreading salacious, unverified rumors that he’s heard about “fucking weird” Mandel’s supposed debauched ongoings. Carlson’s comments about the proclivities of Mandel’s patron threw both Trump and his son into fits of laughter.
The phone call with Carlson, which ended shortly thereafter, lasted roughly 10 minutes. But in that brief window, Don Jr. and, particularly, Carlson seemed to have made an impact. Trump stated he didn’t want to talk to the pro-Mandel McIntosh anymore, two people familiar with the matter told Rolling Stone.
As the collective chortling wound down, the Fox News host told Trump that it is typically the most publicly straight-laced seeming individuals who end up being the most off-kilter, troubled, or sexually aberrant in private. “You know, that’s so true. That’s so true,” the ex-president concurred, according to two sources familiar with the meeting.
Right before Trump hung up the phone, he did not explicitly relay a decision on an endorsement. He did, however, promise that Carlson would likely be very “happy” with Trump’s ultimate choice on the matter.
Several days later, Carlson, Don Jr., and Vance indeed got their way. Trump endorsed Vance, thanks in part to Carlson’s sexual innuendos. (Carlson has spent the week following the endorsement expounding on the importance of male testicle tanning.)
Reached for comment on this story, Club for Growth spokesman Joe Kildea simply replied: “We don’t discuss private conversations with President Trump, no further comment.” However, after publication, McIntosh tweeted, “Absolutely ridiculous. False and manufactured nonsense.”
Absolutely ridiculous. False and manufactured nonsense. https://t.co/LI06Poj7Z7
— David M. McIntosh (@DavidMMcintosh) April 28, 2022
Trump’s decision — which may end up helping decide the fate of the U.S. Senate — brought to a close a yearlong suck-up session in which candidates competed for Trump’s approval, groveling in front of him while competing to be the most vociferous defenders of his bigoted agenda and attempts to overthrow American democracy.
Mandel, a former Ohio state representative and state treasurer, had until recently been beating Vance in the polls with his own brand of guerrilla Trumpism. The Ohio Republican, who waged a failed bid to unseat Ohio Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2012, has tried to ingratiate himself with the former president by loudly echoing Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.
Mandel pointedly refused to acknowledge President Joe Biden as the legitimate commander in chief, saying in an impromptu campaign video filmed in a cornfield that “I’m not even going to call him ‘President Biden’ — he’s not.” In the wake of far-right conspiracy activists’ bogus “audit” of election results in Arizona, Mandel echoed Trump’s false claims that the former president had carried the state and demanded unnamed officials “DECERTIFY THE ELECTION NOW!!!”
Along the way, Mandel has garnered support from pro-Trump establishment Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz and from McIntosh, who’s one of Mandel’s leading supporters and whose Club for Growth super PAC arm has thrown its support behind the former Ohio state treasurer.
Shortly before Trump’s phone call with Carlson, he had patched McIntosh into the midday meeting with his son and advisers at Mar-a-Lago, via speakerphone. Once on the line, McIntosh — who had repeatedly tried to persuade Trump to endorse Mandel — reminded the ex-president of some polling data, which McIntosh stated showed Vance trailing badly, with no reasonable shot at winning, regardless.
Don Jr. jumped in to argue that the polling was unreliable and poorly done. The two debated one another’s points, with former President Trump jumping in periodically to ask questions, for roughly 15 minutes. By the time Trump hung up, he had yet to state a decision, continuing to leave the prospect of an endorsement for Mandel, Vance, or any of the other Ohio Republicans up in the air.
Unlike Mandel, Vance had notable strikes against him in the contest to win Trump’s support. As Trump’s campaign gained steam in 2016, Vance — who had written a runaway-hit memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, about his upbringing in Kentucky and Ohio and the political pathologies of the white, rural working class — used his newfound celebrity to trash-talk the candidate.
Vance described himself as “a never-Trump guy” in an interview with Charlie Rose. On Twitter, he called Trump “reprehensible” and hoped that the public would remember the Ivy League financier as someone “who fought [Trump] most aggressively.” In private, Vance wrote in 2016 Facebook messages to a former Yale classmate that Trump was “America’s Hitler” and a “cynical asshole.”
Those comments would normally doom anyone seeking a favor from the thin-skinned Trump, who’s been known to nurse grievances over the mildest of slights. But Vance had spent months and months reinventing himself as a MAGA acolyte. And in his phone call with Trump, sources say, Carlson emphasized Vance’s current views rather than his past comments.
Carlson and Don Jr. assured Trump that Vance was nowadays all onboard with Trumpism and in line with them on important issues, including opposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine during Russia’s ongoing, brutal war of conquest.
Over the past few months, Vance has repeatedly echoed Trump’s 2020 election lies. “Our oligarchs used their power and money to do everything they could to steal an election,” Vance wrote in a joint op-ed with Blake Masters, another Peter Thiel-funded Republican Senate candidate running in Arizona.
During the pre-endorsement phone call, Trump, his son, and Carlson also discussed the performances of the candidates at recent public events, including a March forum where Mike Gibbons — an Ohio Republican businessman also running for the Republican Senate seat — and Mandel got into an onstage tiff that quickly escalated to apparent threats of physical violence and one calling the other a “pussy!” (That dust-up led Trump to privately trash-talk both Mandel and Gibbons, at the time the two leading candidates in the race, for “acting like idiots.”)
Carlson and Don Jr. told the former president and current leader of the GOP that they viewed the non-Vance candidates — including such Trumpists as Mandel, Gibbons, and Jane Timken — as truly unimpressive. The cable-news host said that McIntosh is not actually aligned with Trump on issues such as trade and U.S.-China relations, and the fact that Vance is is the real reason the Club for Growth was heavily opposing and attacking Vance.
“That’s true,” Trump conceded.
Since endorsing Vance, Trump appears to have taken his chosen candidate’s insults and flirtation with Never Trumpism in stride: “He’s a guy that said some bad shit about me,” Trump said of Vance during a rally on Sunday in Ohio. “Every one of the others did also.”
While McIntosh’s pitch for Mandel failed to win the Trump nod, the Club for Growth’s super PAC arm remains undeterred, even going so far as to gently criticize the former president for his embrace of Vance. A Club for Growth Action ad that recently aired in Ohio featured clips of Vance’s 2016 Trump criticism alongside actors playing puzzled Trump voters wondering “Has President Trump seen this?” and “Look, I love Trump, but he’s getting it wrong with J.D. Vance, too.”
The ads have not persuaded Trump to change his stance. As The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman reported last week, Trump had his assistant relay a curt message to McIntosh via text message after the ads criticizing his Vance endorsement ran: “Go fuck yourself.”
Patrick Reis contributed to this report.