Trump’s praise complicates Glenn Youngkin’s attempt to pivot into Virginia politics
Glenn Youngkin is doing all he can to present himself as a Republican underdog in the election for governor of Virginia. But former President Donald Trump is blurring this strategy.
This problem for Youngkin was highlighted on Friday when the former president – who lost Virginia in 2016 and 2020 – issued a statement praising the Republican businessman and attacking the Democratic candidate for the Governor Terry McAuliffe, who led the Commonwealth from 2014 to 2018.
Trump praised Youngkin’s poll numbers and called him an “incredible success” and a “highly respected person” who “really make Virginia great,” linking the Republican candidate to the president’s campaign slogan. He then attacked McAuliffe as a “failed and unpopular governor” who accepted donations from his campaign and “would do whatever I wanted.”
In many Republican contests, a Trump statement would be celebrated and quickly used to raise money. But in Virginia, a state that has turned against the Republican Party in recent years, the statement could further complicate matters for the Republican nominee.
“Trump is deeply unpopular where Youngkin needs a voice,” said Chris Saxman, a former Republican state senator who blogs about Virginia politics.
Youngkin’s strategy since winning the nomination earlier this year has been to portray himself as a political underdog, showcase his background in business, and boast of being independent of all political partisanship.
“Let me ask everyone a question: in our communities, in our place of worship or here at work, does anyone really care about the political party we belong to? “ Youngkin asks in a TV commercial.
The businessman’s public message, particularly in his paid advertising, also focused on broad proposals aimed at the electorate community – including a series of tax policy and state benefit proposals. to help the veterans that the Republican nominee announced this week – and less on the kind of culture war issues that have fueled Trump’s tenure.
Youngkin made this clear in a recently released video that shows the Republican last month telling a liberal activist posing as an abortion opponent that while he could ‘offend’ abortion, by focusing on the question “won’t win my independent votes that I need to get.”
Youngkin’s outsider strategy could work against McAuliffe, a Democrat whose decades of party fundraising made him the prototype political insider. But the biggest threat to that strategy could be Trump himself, a politician who, in his quest to rebuild his political power after his 2020 defeat, is eager to bond with burgeoning Republicans like Youngkin.
“I’m sure Youngkin’s pollsters weren’t happy, but his political team were happy she came out on a Friday in July,” Saxman said of Trump’s statement. “The base is going to love it and Glenn has to motivate them because this is a base election, but the downside for him is it could help McAuliffe even more with his base.”
McAuliffe himself and his senior campaign aides applauded any mention of Youngkin and Trump in the same sentence. Their belief: The more Trump gets involved in racing in Virginia, the easier it will be for them to win.
“I would pay for the fuel to bring Donald Trump here,” McAuliffe told CNN days before winning the Democratic Party nomination last month. The former governor noted that Trump endorsed Youngkin shortly after the Republican won the nomination and McAuliffe couldn’t hide his eagerness to bring the former president to Virginia.
“Absolutely,” McAuliffe said with a laugh, “I’m going to refuel the plane.”
A senior McAuliffe official told CNN they would use the statement against Youngkin whenever possible, but the tension around Trump and Youngkin only further underscores that the Republican nominee has a “difficult balance to try to keep. the grassroots running “knowing” what they want to achieve is completely out of step with how Republicans in Virginia will make their decisions. ”
“This is their main challenge, which is going to be continually difficult for them,” said the assistant.
The Democratic Governors Association responded to Trump’s statement with a simple question: “When is the Trump-Youngkin rally in Virginia?” ”
Youngkin’s campaign responded to Trump’s statement by accusing the former Democratic governor of being linked to Trump himself.
“Terry McAuliffe knows he can’t beat Glenn Youngkin, which is why he’s so desperate to run against someone else,” said Matt Wolking, Youngkin’s communications director and former Trump aide. “The problem for Terry is that he’s a total fraudster who took $ 25,000 from Donald Trump, hugged Donald Trump, toasted Donald Trump and now claims he wasn’t friends with him for almost three decades. ”
CNN reported in 2009 that Trump wrote McAuliffe a check for $ 25,000 in his failed gubernatorial bid that year.
Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said the more Trump supports Youngkin, the more concerned the Republican candidate’s team should be.
“Everything revolves around Trump. He couldn’t care about Youngkin for Youngkin’s sake. He wants to partner with what he thinks is a winner, but in fact he makes his victory less likely, ”Sabato said. “(Youngkin) doesn’t need this unwanted help from Donald Trump. But he has it and it’s yet another albatross around his neck – with a Trump symbol. ”
John Fredericks, a Virginia-based talk radio host who has chaired Trump’s presidential campaigns in the state, said he believes Youngkin has done a good job so far in walking the difficult tightrope of running as a Republican in a fairly anti-Trump state.
“What he needs to do is keep Trump’s highly motivated base in Virginia and inspire that enthusiasm while trying to distance himself from some of the peculiarities of Trump’s personality that have discouraged some of the suburban women in major markets. of Virginia, ”Fredericks said. “It’s a tall order.”
Fredericks noted that Trump has a particular fondness for Virginia – the former president owns both a golf club and a winery in the state – which explains his outspokenness about the race.
“McAuliffe is going to run against Trump anyway,” Fredericks said, “so there’s really nothing wrong with the president saying nice things that are genuine about Glenn.”