Murdoch Encouraged Virginia’s Youngkin to Seek Presidency

From a Washington Post story by Laura Vozzella, Sarah Ellison, and Maeve Reston headlined “Rupert Murdoch encouraged Virginia’s Glenn Youngkin to seek presidency”:

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch has repeatedly encouraged Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) to run for president in 2024, according to two people familiar with entreaties made in at least two face-to-face meetings.

The meetings took place months ago, but Murdoch’s ask has taken on fresh relevance as Youngkin continues to lay the groundwork for a potential last-minute White House bid and as Murdoch outlets hyped his presidential prospects this month with a mix of sober Wall Street Journal analysis and buzzy Page Six blurbs.

The New York Times reported in July, in a story on how Fox News coverage of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis turned tougher as his presidential campaign began struggling, that Murdoch had privately told people that he would like Youngkin to enter the race.

It was not publicly known until now that the New York billionaire, whose family owns a controlling stake in News Corp. and Fox Corp., had personally encouraged Youngkin to jump in, although the Virginia governor is thought to be waiting to see if his party prevails in the November state election before making a decision on whether to run.

The two men have spoken on at least two occasions in person about a possible Youngkin run, according to two people familiar with the ongoing discussion between them. The more recent of the two discussions took place in the spring and the timing of the first was unclear, according to a third person familiar with their interactions who, like the others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Murdoch has long felt that the seeming obsession of former president Donald Trump with the results of the 2020 election will only serve to drag the Republican Party down in a general election. He is also keenly aware of the damage that Trump’s message about the election cost his own company, which was forced to pay nearly $788 million to Dominion Voting Systems in a settlement in a defamation action earlier this year.

One of the people familiar with the conversations between Murdoch and Youngkin cautioned that Murdoch has previously urged others to get into the ring with Trump, as he did with former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg during the 2016 Republican primary. “Not everyone listens to Rupert, and Rupert’s instincts are not always perfect,” this person said. “But he has always believed that some competition is better than none at all, and he would like to see some debate about the issues in the primary.”

Support from Murdoch could be a great asset to any White House hopeful given the reach his media empire has with conservative audiences, but it is no golden ticket. In addition, Murdoch is ultimately a pragmatist and the people familiar with the Youngkin discussions said Murdoch could once again throw his support behind Trump. But given the Fox settlement with Dominion, the media mogul is more tentative than ever about the former president, these people said.

As Murdoch outlets started to turn on Trump — the New York Post famously covered his 2024 campaign kickoff with the headline “Florida man makes announcement” — their conservative audience largely stuck with the former president. The praise and attention that Fox showered on DeSantis as he first emerged as the chief rival to Trump did not forestall the governor’s more recent fall in the polls.

A political newcomer and former Carlyle Group executive who plowed $20 million of his own money to fund his 2021 gubernatorial campaign, Youngkin swiftly vaulted from national obscurity to lists of potential Republican presidential contenders the moment he flipped seemingly blue Virginia red.

A recent Virginia Commonwealth University survey found Virginians favor Youngkin over President Biden for president 44 percent to 37 percent in a hypothetical head-to-head contest, but Youngkin barely registers in national Republican primary polls. Nevertheless, White House buzz around him has persisted.

Some political insiders see a path for Youngkin based on his ties to the donor class and a personal fortune that Forbes estimated at $470 million at the time of his election; appeal to evangelicals as someone who started a church in his basement; and ability to wage MAGA culture wars in the style of the friendly dad next door.

Yet Youngkin would face tremendous logistical hurdles if he sticks with his plan to stay out of the race until after the Virginia General Assembly races on Nov. 7 that have the potential to boost or dim his national prospects. The candidate filing deadlines for presidential primaries or caucuses will have passed by that date in some key states, including Nevada on Oct. 15 and South Carolina on Oct. 31. The deadlines in a host of other states fall soon after that.

Youngkin has two missions, winning the statehouse and the White House, which are intertwined. Virginia Republicans must hold the House and flip the Senate to preserve the very thing that launched Youngkin to national prominence: his reputation for energizing MAGA voters without alienating suburban moderates.

As he focuses on the Virginia elections, Youngkin continues to prepare for a potential White House run. The governor courted billionaire Republican megadonors early this month in the Hamptons at the home of former commerce secretary Wilbur Ross. He is due in Atlanta on Saturday to serve as the closing speaker at a conference that Republican commentator Erick Erickson has organized to showcase several declared Republican presidential candidates.

One major Republican donor is openly pushing for Youngkin. Thomas Peterffy told the Financial Times in April that he was putting his contributions to DeSantis “on hold” to protest what he perceived as the governor’s extreme positions on some social issues. “Because of his stance on abortion and book banning,” Peterffy and “a bunch of friends, are holding our powder dry,” he told the newspaper.

Peterffy donated $1 million to Youngkin’s Spirit of Virginia PAC as he backed away from DeSantis in April and followed up this month with another $1 million contribution. The Florida resident of Palm Beach raved about Youngkin’s presidential prospects on Fox Business in late July and on Fox News this month.

“Definitely he could beat Donald Trump. He could beat anybody,” Peterffy told Fox News host Steve Doocy last week. Doocy introduced Peterffy as “one of those mega donors who hopes that Glenn Youngkin gets into the race.” “A million bucks to a guy who is not even in yet. How are you going to get him to run?” Doocy asked.

“Well, he is running,” Peterffy began before clarifying, “I mean, he is fighting in Virginia for these elections that are coming up this November and that is what the money is for, to help him turn the state Republican.” Doocy pegged the segment on the gathering at the home of Stephen Ross days earlier, quoting from a Page Six item that said “the governor impressed the crowd with his pitch.”

The New York Post gossip column, which in July broke news of the planned party under its “celebrity news” banner, followed up this month with a report that the “buzzy dinner” drew Ross and fellow billionaires Ronald Lauder, John Paulson and Nelson Peltz.

Ross, the Miami Dolphins owner and developer who held a fundraiser for Trump’s reelection effort in 2019, is so far the only one of the identified guests to donate to Youngkin since the event, giving $25,000 to his PAC on Aug. 11. Another New York billionaire, Stanley Druckenmiller, gave $75,000 to the PAC on Aug. 9, although it was not clear if he attended the event. He did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Those reports kicked off a burst of Youngkin coverage in Murdoch outlets, some of it focused on appearances the governor was making around Virginia to promote his “parents matter” agenda in schools. The New York Post and the Wall Street Journal dispatched opinion writers to cover the tour. When Youngkin staged the event in Fredericksburg on Aug. 10, Fox News shared it with viewers nationwide via live shot.

“A 6-foot-7 gentle giant with a perpetual smile, he already looks presidential,” a New York Post columnist opined on Aug. 13, using an inflated stat from his days as a Rice University basketball player. (Youngkin said he used to stand 6-foot-6 but with age has shrunk to a still-towering 6-foot-5.) “If no alternative to Mr. Trump breaks through, nervous Republican donors and voters will start looking for a lifeboat, and Glenn Youngkin just may prove seaworthy,” Wall Street Journal editorial board member Kate Bachelder Odell wrote in a lengthy piece that also ran on Aug. 13.

That same day, the Journal Editorial Report on Fox News featured Odell and some of her colleagues discussing Youngkin’s prospects for a hefty 6½ minutes. Their assessment was mostly upbeat. “I didn’t hear the word ‘woke,’” Odell said, drawing a contrast with DeSantis and his aggressive declaration of “war on woke.” (Youngkin has used “woke” at times, including at a rally in Northern Virginia alongside Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) ahead of the 2022 midterms, where the governor warned parents could be arrested “for not conforming to woke views.”)

Former Trump White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon, grumbling in a radio interview Monday that Murdoch outlets were trying to “give some life” to Youngkin’s presidential hopes, said MAGA voters in Virginia should consider staying home in November since Republican wins would make Youngkin a bigger threat to Trump.

“Why should they set up another competitor to Trump?” Bannon asked rhetorically to radio host John Fredericks, who was the Virginia chairman of the Trump campaign in 2016 and 2020. Fredericks pushed back against that strategy, calling it “crazy” and “Machiavellian” even as he echoed Bannon’s complains about glowing Youngkin coverage. Youngkin is Murdoch’s “new flavor of the month after his DeSantis gamble blew up in his face,” Fredericks said later an interview with The Post.

A Trump spokesperson declined to comment on Murdoch and Youngkin but said the campaign did not support the proposal from Bannon for the Virginia elections. “Of course we support a Republican majority in the Senate and House in Virginia,” the Trump spokesperson said.

Many donors were initially excited about DeSantis, who had an enviable donor Rolodex and appeared to be the most formidable challenger to Trump following his landslide reelection victory in Florida in 2022. He raised $20 million in the first six weeks of his campaign, but both national and key primary state polls suggest that his message is not connecting with a broad swath of Republican voters, many of whom still prefer Trump.

But some donors who have soured on DeSantis are not ready to turn to Youngkin, who will not hit the halfway point of his four years as governor until January. Among those who have called a Youngkin bid premature is Andrew Sabin, a New York metal recycling magnate and major Republican donor. He backed Trump in 2016 and 2020, planned to support DeSantis this time, soured on him in the spring and next turned next to Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.).

Sabin likes what he sees so far in Youngkin. He donated $10,000 to his gubernatorial campaign and gave the same amount to his Spirit of Virginia PAC in May. But Sabin is not ready to back him for president. “I like him a lot, but I really would like to see him finish out his term in Virginia,” he said. “Show the people of the country he is a great governor and he deserves to be president in ’28.”

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post. Before joining The Post, she was a political columnist and food writer at the Baltimore Sun, and she has also worked for the Associated Press, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Hartford Courant.

Sarah Ellison is a staff writer based in New York for The Washington Post. Previously, she wrote for Vanity Fair, the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek, where she started as a news assistant in Paris.

Maeve Reston is a national political reporter for The Washington Post covering the 2024 presidential race and the politics of the West. She joined The Post in 2023 after covering politics and five presidential campaigns at CNN, the Los Angeles Times, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Austin American-Statesman.

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