The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Glenn Youngkin’s policy rollout is overshadowed by the ‘big lie’

Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin at an event in Richmond in May. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)
Placeholder while article actions load

After weeks of running an empty-vessel campaign into which voters could pour whatever ideas, hopes, fears and theories they wished, Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin has finally put some ideas on the table.

They aren’t fresh or new ideas. The tax rebates, small-business support and modest school-choice policies, plus a spending spree on constituencies such as law enforcement, would be standard fare for a Republican running for office in, say, the late 1990s or early 2000s.

There are flaws with each proposal — the biggest being that many of them are based on Virginia’s share of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Youngkin has flip-flopped on the spending plan, calling it unnecessary in the spring but more recently saying he wants to spend it.

That change of heart — or bow to reality — means the starry-eyed outsider has taken a big step toward becoming the transactional insider he’s running against.

But what about the ideas?

One of the tax proposals would hand out a maximum of $300 per person. That’s not exactly going to send the Virginia economy into orbit. But returning a portion of the state’s budget surplus — not ARPA funds — to those who created it seems not just fair but long overdue.

And credit goes, too, to Youngkin’s proposal to use more of the $4.3 billion in federal relief he’s now embraced to plug the hole in the state’s unemployment insurance fund.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) proposed using $862 million in federal money to shore up the fund and another $73 million to help fix problems at the troubled Virginia Employment Commission.

That’s all fine and good, because the shift helps avoid businesses large and small from seeing their unemployment taxes spike to cover the deficit. But just a few weeks ago, the consensus, including from former finance secretary Aubrey Layne, was that fixing the trust fund would require “well over a billion dollars.” The Virginia Employment Commission said it would take $1.3 billion to return the trust fund to pre-pandemic levels and ward off tax hikes on businesses.

Youngkin says the General Assembly should commit the full $1.3 billion the Virginia Unemployment Commission said was needed to avoid the tax hike. Points to Youngkin for doing what Northam’s own finance secretary said should be done.

But even as Youngkin was floating his ideas, he’s still playing footsie with the Trump dead-enders who’ve brought the GOP so low.

The most recent instance: his inability to denounce the conspiracy theory that former president Donald Trump (and other defeated Republicans) will soon be restored to office.

At a recent campaign event, an audience member insisted that “Trump won,” the election results were “all fraud,” that a number of Virginia races were “stolen” and Trump will return in “August or September.” The audience member asked Youngkin whether Trump’s fantastical return would help get “our people back in office.”

Rather than politely but firmly say there is no means, method or reason that will restore Trump to the presidency, Youngkin offered a bizarre word salad instead:

“I don’t know the particulars about how that can happen, because what’s happening in the court system is moving slowly and it’s unclear. And we all know the courts move slowly …”

That’s an unforced error. Youngkin tried to change the subject, saying, again, that Joe Biden was legitimately elected to the presidency. No dice. He had the chance to put a stake through the QAnon cancer coursing through the GOP and didn’t.

But not all is lost. The 5th Congressional District “conspiracy-palooza” happens this weekend. Officially billed as an election integrity event, GOP lieutenant governor nominee Winsome Sears and GOP attorney general nominee Jason Miyares, who were dubbed “featured guests” on the announcement, now have plans to campaign elsewhere. Youngkin, who said he’d stop by, hasn’t made similar plans.

He should make other plans now and get to work advocating for his newfound policies rather than feeding the big lie.