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Conservative Bill Kristol endorses McAuliffe in race for Virginia governor

Bill Kristol, a conservative commentator, is joining other Republicans in formally endorsing Democrat Terry McAuliffe for Virginia governor over Republican Glenn Youngkin.
Bill Kristol, a conservative commentator, is joining other Republicans in formally endorsing Democrat Terry McAuliffe for Virginia governor over Republican Glenn Youngkin. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

RICHMOND — Bill Kristol is just like all the other disaffected Virginia Republicans whom gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin needs to win over, only famous.

The longtime conservative commentator, who settled in Northern Virginia three decades ago to join the Reagan administration, split with the GOP over President Donald Trump. With Trump out of the White House, Kristol says he’s ready to support “non-Trump Republicans.” But Kristol does not put Youngkin, a former Carlyle Group executive, in that category. On Tuesday, he will formally endorse Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a former governor seeking a comeback.

“He’s a moderate Democrat, and he’s not going to shut down Virginia’s business success, economic success and so forth. He’s the kind of Democrat I’m comfortable supporting,” Kristol said in an interview Monday, when he criticized Youngkin’s “reckless” public health and tax policies as much as his embrace of Trump.

Is Virginia an economic success or ‘in the ditch?’ Depends on which candidate you ask.

Kristol is one of 17 Republicans who will endorse McAuliffe on Tuesday in a coordinated rollout that the campaign bills as a sign of the former governor’s bipartisan appeal.

“I am proud to be building an unmatched, broad coalition of leaders who share my vision to move Virginia forward,” McAuliffe, who held the office from 2014 to 2018, said in a written statement.

Youngkin’s campaign was dismissive of Kristol’s endorsement. “A 43-year political boss like Terry McAuliffe trotting out the endorsements of fellow political grifters is neither impressive nor surprising,” Youngkin spokesman Matt Wolking said in a statement. “It exemplifies McAuliffe’s old and tired way of doing things that has failed Virginia.” Wolking said Youngkin has “tremendous support from Republicans AND Democrats, along with 16 different coalitions including Latinos, Blacks, Farmers, Firefighters, and Students.”

Youngkin has found himself in a corner when it comes to Trump, who lost the state by 10 points but remains highly popular with the GOP base. Trump endorsed Youngkin after he won the Republican nomination in May and followed up with two statements lauding him. Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, headlined a fundraiser for Youngkin in Virginia Beach last week.

As he sought the GOP nomination, Youngkin treaded carefully around Trump’s false claim that Democrats rigged the 2020 election. Youngkin never said the election was stolen, but he made “election integrity” the centerpiece of his campaign. He refused to acknowledge that President Biden had legitimately won the White House until after securing the nomination.

Youngkin’s tricky dance with ‘election integrity’ complicates run for Virginia governor

Kristol served as chief of staff to Education Secretary William Bennett under President Ronald Reagan and as chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle in the George H.W. Bush administration. He later founded the Weekly Standard, an influential conservative magazine that shut down in 2018. He is editor-at-large of the Bulwark, an online news site.

Kristol said his first introduction to Youngkin was the flurry of campaign mailers that landed in his McLean mailbox amid the nomination battle.

“Many of them had photos of Trump, or quotes from Trump. And I remember more vividly than that, his top issue was election integrity,” Kristol said. “And I thought, ‘Oh, my God. Really?’ . . . I think he made his bet that he had to be pretty Trumpy to win the nomination, and then he’s stayed there.”

Kristol also said he preferred McAuliffe’s positions related to masks and vaccinations to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

McAuliffe has required his campaign staff to be vaccinated, called on private health-care providers to require vaccination for their employees, and supported Gov. Ralph Northam’s mandate that students and staff members at K-12 schools wear masks.

McAuliffe went further Monday, after federal regulators granted full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine — calling on every Virginia employer to require eligible workers to be vaccinated.

Candidates for Virginia governor take opposite positions on mask and vaccine mandates

Although Youngkin has been vaccinated and has encouraged others to do the same, he has opposed mask and vaccine mandates as violations of individual and parental rights. When asked in a radio interview this month whether he would follow the lead of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and prohibit local school board officials from requiring masks, he said he would, proclaiming that “there should be no mask mandates in Virginia.”

Youngkin’s campaign later said he would not go quite as far as DeSantis, saying he would leave the matter to school districts and “strongly encourage” them to let parents decide for their own children.

As “a pretty free-market Republican,” Kristol said he takes a dimmer view of big government than McAuliffe. But Kristol said he is more wary of Youngkin’s stated interest in eliminating the state’s personal income tax, which accounts for more than 70 percent of the general-fund revenue that the General Assembly and governor control.

Youngkin’s campaign has not explained how he could eliminate such a huge chunk of state revenue but said the cuts would be phased in and would supercharge the economy, generating more revenue from that growth.

“Youngkin has shown he is willing to embrace reckless economic policies and reckless public health policies,” Kristol said. “Who knows what he would do as governor, but at least he is willing to talk in that way.”