Glenn Youngkin is squaring off against Terry McAuliffe for the keys to the Virginia Governor’s Mansion on Tuesday.
It’s been a strange campaign.
McAuliffe is as establishment as establishment gets. He’s tight with the Clintons, once chaired the Democratic National Committee, and has even already served as Virginia’s governor. Youngkin is a political neophyte who’s been trying to thread pretty tight a needle by playing to Trump’s base while also distancing himself from the former president in an effort to court the swing state’s moderates. He’s also, like Trump, been trying to play up the idea that he’s “not a politician,” despite behaving like a seasoned operator who’s willing to get down in the muck and push whatever position necessary to secure the votes he needs.
If he’s able to prevail, his culture war of a campaign could be used as a blueprint for Republicans heading into 2022.
Here’s some of what we know about the wolf in sheep’s clothing — or, in Youngkin’s case, a red sweater vest:
He spent almost his entire adult life working for a single private-equity firm
Youngkin’s Twitter bio touts that he once worked as a dishwasher, but make no mistake: He is obscenely wealthy. His family owns a ranch in Texas, a resort in Jackson Hole, and a horse farm in Virginia. He went to Harvard Business School, and regularly donated to establishment Republicans like Jeb Bush, Susan Collins, and Mitt Romney. He’s a rich, fiscal conservative plucked out of central casting, as Trump might say, and yes, of course he opposes the idea of a $15 minimum wage.
Youngkin amassed his fortune of nearly half a billion dollars at the Carlyle Group, a private-equity firm he joined in his 20s after having worked at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company. He only left last year to run for governor. This fortune may be the primary reason Youngkin has been able to go toe-to-toe with McAuliffe. Both candidates reported in September that they’d raised close to $35 million through the end of August. The Daily Beast noted, however, that nearly half of Youngkin’s fundraising haul came from … Youngkin. He’s also received sizable donations from Trump-loving billionaires, including Linda McMahon, Trump’s Small Business Administration chief and wife to wrestling mogul Vince McMahon.
He’s been wishy-washy on election issues
Youngkin started his campaign by raising concerns about election integrity, and did not publicly acknowledge the legitimacy of President Biden’s win last November until May. What happened in May? He secured the Republican nomination. Youngkin largely pivoted away from election integrity, but still refused to say whether he would have voted to certify the 2020 results until late September.
“Glenn Youngkin has repeatedly said that Joe Biden was legitimately elected and that there was no significant fraud in Virginia’s 2020 election, leading to the only logical conclusion that he would have certified the election,” his campaign said in a statement.
It wasn’t really that logical, though. Youngkin may have acknowledged Biden’s win was legitimate, but he never totally stopped playing to the Stop the Steal crowd. The Washington Post reported in September that at month earlier Youngkin enlisted state Senator Amanda Chase, one of the state’s top election conspiracy theorists, to urge voters to cast their ballots early so the Democrats couldn’t steal the election. When Axios asked Youngkin if he would have certified the results if he were in Congress, he dodged the question. “One of the great things is, I’m not in Congress,” he said. The non-answer drew condemnation, which elicited his campaign’s clarifying that he would have certified the results — of course.
Meanwhile, many of those around Youngkin continued to push for reform. A rally for his campaign last month even featured Arizona election audit huckster Mark Finchem, as well as Steven Bannon and Trump (via phone) railing about election corruption. Youngkin did not attend, and a day later disavowed attendees who pledged allegiance to a flag that was flown on Jan. 6. State Sen. Chase has also continued to allege fraud, claiming in an interview the week before Election Day that she knows “how Democrats are cheating” and that she’ll release a full report after the election is over.
So where exactly does Youngkin stand? It seems to depend on what he needs at the moment.
He’s been similarly opportunistic about … the whole Trump thing
Youngkin had no problem associating himself with Trump … while he was still vying to win the Republican nomination. He ran ads featuring clips of Trump praising him, as modern Republican candidates do. But with the nomination in the bag and Election Day drawing near, Youngkin seems to be trying to wash his hands of any connection to the former president. Case in point: Monday night. It could have been a great opportunity for the two of them to appear together onstage with the polls set to open the following morning. Trump even teased the possibility of a rally last week. Youngkin, however, shot down the idea.
“He’s not coming,” he said of Trump. “And in fact, we’re campaigning as Virginians in Virginia with Virginians.”
Instead of visiting Virginia on Monday, Trump made a brief, bizarre call into a “tele-rally” for Youngkin that was closed to the press. Youngkin did not make an appearance.
He was caught on camera saying he can’t share his abortion views because he’d lose votes
The American Independent this summer obtained a video fo Youngkin telling a liberal activist posing as one of his supporters that he can’t talk publicly about how he wants to crack down on abortions because it “won’t win my independent votes that I have to get.” Youngkin said in the video that he wants to stop allowing people to get “abortions all the way up until the last week before birth” and “stop using taxpayer money on abortion,” which is not a thing. When he was asked about “getting a fetal heartbeat bill here like they did in Texas” and “defunding Planned Parenthood,” Youngkin replied: “You’re on the right path.”
He’s making bogus arguments about critical race theory
Opportunism is starting to become a theme here.
Youngkin has seized recently on conservative concern about critical race theory, propping it up as one of his campaign’s tentpole issues. He’s talked about critical race theory “moving its way into schools all across Virginia” and vowed to ban it across the state, if elected. The only problem is that critical race theory isn’t even taught in Virginia schools. It’s not even a real issue. Youngkin is just trying to tap into the outrage his prospective voters are absorbing on Fox News.
Youngkin has released a torrent of ads centered around parents having a say in their kids’ education. Here’s one featuring a woman whose son came home from high school horrified by what he was reading in Beloved, Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning classic. (The woman does not mention that her son is now a lawyer for the National Republican Congressional Committee, as The Washington Post pointed out last month.)
What’s it like to have Terry McAuliffe block you from having a say in your child’s education?
— Glenn Youngkin (@GlennYoungkin) October 25, 2021
Another indication Youngkin is full of shit on the issue is that he and his former private equity firm, the Carlyle Group, made a concerted push to foster diversity around last year’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations, even offering to match employee donations to groups like the NAACP and the Southern Poverty Law Center. As The Daily Beast pointed out last month, some of these groups promote many of the ideas that form the basis of critical race theory, which is essentially just an acknowledgement that systemic racism exists in America.
You’ll hear no such thing out of Youngkin’s mouth now, but he’s still trying to have it both ways (another theme) by claiming that he still wants children to be taught the “good and bad” of history. He’s even claimed that banned critical race theory is what Martin Luther King Jr. would have wanted. “On Day One, we are going to embrace Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous, famous comments that we are not going to judge one another by the color of their skin but rather the content of our character,” he said last month.
He’s also gone in on transphobia, vaccine mandates, and other cultural issues
Youngkin has for months steered clear of the traditional issues that will actually have an impact on the livelihoods of Virginians in favor of Fox News talking points. He rallied around a teacher who refused to address students their pronouns, and has worked to reignite the debate around transgender bathroom laws. He’s bashed vaccine mandates. He’s centered critical race theory. He’s done everything he can to create the impression that Democrats are doing all they can to destroy the white, Christian Virginia many of the state’s conservatives know and love, and which many of them may not have even thought was under assault under Youngkin convinced them of it so he could get their vote.
As governor, I will stand up for teachers like Tanner Cross. I am calling on the Loudoun County School Board to reinstate Tanner Cross fully because they have absolutely ignored his constitutional rights.
If we don’t stand up for our teachers and parents, who will? pic.twitter.com/mI5qGzfzBH
— Glenn Youngkin (@GlennYoungkin) June 1, 2021
It’s all an act, and with Election Day now here, what Youngkin actually believes — other than that he is the state’s rightful governor — remains a mystery. “Whether he believes in this Trump stuff or if he’s trafficking in it, I don’t know,” David Ramadan, a former Republican politician in the state who now teaches at George Mason University, told The New York Times. “But if he doesn’t really believe this stuff and is just trafficking in it, that’s worse than believing it.”