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Trump calls on Youngkin to get off the fence and embrace MAGA

Glenn Youngkin is the Republican candidate for Virginia governor.
Glenn Youngkin is the Republican candidate for Virginia governor. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

RICHMOND — Former president Donald Trump on Thursday suggested that Republican Glenn Youngkin risks losing the Virginia governor's race by not fully embracing the "MAGA movement."

Youngkin has tried to walk a fine line on Trump in a state where the ex-president remains highly popular in rural areas yet toxic in the vote-rich cities and suburbs. In a radio interview, Trump indicated that he was not a fan of the balancing act.

“The only guys that win are the guys that embrace the MAGA movement,” Trump said on the “John Fredericks Radio Show” when asked about Youngkin’s chances against Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a former governor seeking a comeback. “When they try to go down a railroad track, you know, ‘Hey, oh yeah, sure, love it, love it. Oh, yeah, love Trump. Love Trump. Okay, let’s go, next subject.’ When they do that, nobody, they don’t — they never win. They never win. They have to embrace it.”

Trump answered in the affirmative when asked whether Youngkin, a political newcomer and former private equity executive, can beat McAuliffe on Nov. 2 — yet that came with a “but.”

“I do,” Trump said. “But you know what I find, and he’s been very nice and all, but I did well in Virginia.”

Trump went on from there to suggest — without evidence — that his 10-point loss in the state last year was the result of voter fraud. Next came his comments on the balancing act and the need to embrace “Make America Great Again,” now often referred to as MAGA.

Youngkin’s campaign declined to comment.

Hours after the radio interview, however, Trump reaffirmed his support for Youngkin, although in a backhanded way.

“Terry McAuliffe was a badly failed Governor — owned by Crooked Hillary,” Trump said in a one-sentence email to supporters that also contained a link to an article saying Youngkin was leading in a University of Mary Washington poll.

Trump puts Youngkin in a pickle in a state with increasingly polarized politics, with bright-red rural regions, deep-blue urban centers and once-purple suburbs that flipped blue while Trump was in the White House. Youngkin’s challenge, political observers say, is to rebrand the GOP for suburbanites while keeping Trump fans excited.

The election will be the first test of whether Virginia has become a solidly blue state or a place where the GOP, which hasn’t won a statewide election since 2009 and saw its losses mount under Trump, can regroup with someone else in the White House. The contest will be widely seen as an early referendum on President Biden and a preview of next year’s congressional midterms.

Video shows Glenn Youngkin saying he can’t fully discuss abortion or risk losing independent Virginia voters

McAuliffe, a former political fundraiser and Democratic National Committee chairman, has his own presidential millstone in Biden’s sinking approval ratings. Trump’s absence from the daily news cycle could dampen Democratic turnout, which reached record levels during his presidency.

In a state Biden won handily last year, a majority of voters were displeased with his performance in office, with 46 percent approving and 51 percent disapproving in a Washington Post-Schar School poll released last week. Three percent had no opinion.

McAuliffe, Youngkin locked in tight race for Virginia governor, Post-Schar School poll finds

The same poll found McAuliffe and Youngkin in a tight race, with McAuliffe standing at 50 percent vs. 47 percent for Youngkin among likely voters.

McAuliffe has spent much of the race linking Youngkin to Trump, often reminding voters of Youngkin’s remark in a radio interview in May: “President Trump represents so much of why I’m running.”

Amid a competitive GOP nomination battle, Youngkin played up those links, airing an ad showing Trump praising Youngkin and the Carlyle Group for helping with a China trade deal. Youngkin revved up conservative audiences with pledges to expand gun rights, restrict abortion and ban critical race theory.

But stylistically, Youngkin has little in common with the brash former reality TV star who occupied the Oval Office. In TV ads, the former Carlyle Group executive presents himself as an apolitical family man who wants to use his business acumen to make Virginia a better place to live, work and have a family.

Glenn Youngkin, GOP nominee for Virginia governor, goes mum on guns and abortion

Youngkin’s stance on election fraud claims has been deliberately nuanced. He has made overt appeals to Republicans who believe Trump’s false claims that Biden stole the 2020 election, making “election integrity” the early centerpiece of his campaign and refusing to acknowledge the Democrat’s win until after securing the GOP nomination. But Youngkin was careful to never explicitly say Biden was illegitimate.

In a shift, GOP nominee for Va. governor admits Biden ‘legitimately’ elected

Youngkin edged further from Trump’s election fraud claims during a debate last week at Appalachian School of Law in Grundy. Moderator Susan Page of USA Today noted that Youngkin had embraced an endorsement from Trump, who had also raised questions about the integrity of the upcoming governor’s race.

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

“Do you believe there has been significant fraud in previous Virginia elections and do you agree with President Trump that Democrats may cheat [in the governor’s race]?” she asked.

“I do not believe there’s been significant fraud in Virginia elections,” Youngkin replied.

When Page pressed Youngkin on whether he thinks Democrats will cheat, he answered: “No.”

Youngkin and McAuliffe report massive summer fundraising hauls in Virginia’s race for governor