Glenn Youngkin Can Win From the Sidelines

From a Washington Post column by Karen Tumulty headlined “Glenn Youngkin can win from the sidelines”:

The Republican donor class, as it tends to do, is getting jittery.

Last week’s GOP debate was a horrifying sight to Republicans who believe their party has a death wish, dooming not only its presidential prospects, but the entire ticket in a year when control of the House and Senate is on the line.

It did not exactly inspire confidence that anyone currently in the field poses much of a threat to Donald Trump when all but two of the candidates on the stage raised their hands to say they would support the former president as their 2024 nominee even if he is convicted of any of the felonies with which he has been charged.

With their hopes for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis rapidly fading, some of these Republicans are talking up an 11th-hour desperation option — a rich man in Richmond.

Now, it should be noted that Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin isn’t saying he’s running. But he isn’t saying he’s not running, either. So his name keeps coming up, with even Rupert Murdoch imploring him to give it a shot. His political action committee has been hauling in millions, and Youngkin has been spending time in the company of big moneymen in places like the Hamptons.

He continues to build his bifurcated political brand, which combines an affable everydad demeanor with an agenda, including rolling back the rights of transgender students in schools, that quickens the pulse of the hard-right base.

As much as he infuriates Democrats, Youngkin’s approach appears to be working. His net approval rating remains in positive territory, with 49 percent of Virginians saying they like the job he is doing and 31 percent disapproving in a Virginia Commonwealth University poll released in early August. His numbers are well above Joe Biden’s, in a state the president won by 10 percentage points in 2020.

The governor insists that his sole focus is his state’s legislative elections on Nov. 7, when Republicans hope to hold on to their two-seat majority in the House of Delegates and pick up two to flip the Senate. That would give them a power trifecta.

Not incidentally, a win in November would also give Youngkin — who is not even halfway through his term as governor — an achievement to brag about in a presidential campaign.

On Wednesday, as Fox Business Network host Maria Bartiromo pressed him once again about whether he is thinking of running for president, Youngkin began with his well-practiced demurral: “I am paying attention to making sure we hold our House and flip our Senate.”

But he then added: “I think this is so important for Virginians and for the nation to see that this can happen, that we can put to work conservative, common-sense policies and we can win. And we can bring together a state that was truly blue, people thought it was purple, we can turn it red.”

That sounds like the warmup notes of an appealing national message, especially for pragmatic Republicans who are looking for a winner above all else. And who’s to say what could never happen in a country that elected Trump?

But for all the buzz around Youngkin, the history of late-entering presidential contenders (See: Thompson, Fred, 2008; Clark, Wesley, 2004) is not exactly promising. Assuming — and it’s far from a cinch — that things go Youngkin’s way in Virginia’s elections this November, he would then have to face the practicalities of running for president.

The Iowa caucuses would be only 10 weeks away and filing deadlines in Nevada and South Carolina — where two of the next three nominating contests are scheduled to take place — will already have passed. Youngkin would also be right up against a host of other state deadlines.

He probably would have no trouble raising money, and has plenty of his own to put into a race. But rapidly building an organization would be daunting, given that most of the top Republican political talent has already been snatched up. Consultants Jeff Roe and Kristin Davison, who were top operatives in Youngkin’s gubernatorial race, are now working for DeSantis’s Never Back Down super PAC.

Meanwhile, Youngkin would instantly find himself in the crosshairs of the other Republican contenders. One obvious line of attack would be the lucrative deals he made with Chinese companies as chief executive of the Carlyle Group private equity firm. Trump telegraphed that punch last year, when he wrote on his Truth Social platform: “Young Kin (now that’s an interesting take. Sounds Chinese, doesn’t it?)”

Taking all of this into account, it seems a pretty safe bet that Youngkin 2024 will remain no more than a fantasy.

But the Virginia governor, who is limited to one term in that office, is building up some bankable assets for 2028. If Trump is next year’s standard-bearer and wins, he would not be able to run for president again, leaving an open field. And if Trump loses, Youngkin could position himself as the man to lift the party from the ashes.

Sometimes, the secret to winning the long game can be knowing when the smartest play is on the sidelines.

Karen Tumulty is a deputy opinion editor and columnist covering national politics. She joined The Post in 2010 from Time magazine and has also worked at the Los Angeles Times.

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