Pressed to explain himself, Youngkin sought to appear flabbergasted. “It’s a silly thing,” he told a reporter who asked about it. “I’ve said all along that Joe Biden was legitimately elected our president.”
But if Youngkin is facing questions about this, he has only himself to blame. While he has been less obvious about it than other Republicans have been, on this matter Youngkin has already deeply soiled himself with Trumpist lies about the 2020 election. Youngkin may wish to erase this right now as a general election candidate in a state that Biden carried by 10 points, but there is no reason to take him at his word.
First, note what Youngkin said in the Axios interview at issue here. After Youngkin’s walk back, Axios posted the full transcript: Asked directly if he would have voted to uphold Biden’s win, Youngkin mumbled about how he’s running for an executive position, not a legislative one, then immediately segued into a denunciation of the violence on Jan. 6.
It’s important to understand that this is the easy position for Republicans to take. Just about every GOP member of Congress who voted to overturn Biden’s electors will mouth words of condemnation of the violence. What most will not admit is that the lies about the election are precisely what inspired the insurrection, let alone that many in their party fed those lies for weeks leading up to it.
So Youngkin’s original position on this to Axios was basically indistinguishable from the craven evasions we’ve heard from many other Republicans for months now.
Then there are Youngkin’s own previous stances on this matter. Youngkin has repeatedly indulged voters who’ve suggested the 2020 voting might have been fraudulent or even that the result might ultimately get overturned by courts, the latter being a particularly deranged Trumpist delusion. As a Post editorial concluded, Youngkin has been “playing footsie” with the “big lie.”
What’s more, as a primary candidate, Youngkin pushed a noxious version of the Republican “election integrity” canard. Here again this is a position Republicans adopt when they want to feed the delusions and conspiracy theories of the Trumpist base while seeking to maintain plausible deniability for doing so.
On top of all this, according to a Post report, it was only after Youngkin had secured the GOP nomination that he fully and unequivocally declared that Biden had legitimately won. Youngkin deserves zero benefit of the doubt on any of this.
Indeed, it will be lost on no one that Youngkin made his comments to Axios at a time when Donald Trump is attacking him for not fully embracing “the MAGA movement.” It’s highly likely that, when asked whether he would have certified Biden’s win, Youngkin deliberately fudged, worrying that answering the question with a definitive “yes” might dampen turnout among the Trump base, which he may need to have a chance at winning.
If so, the moral of the story is that flirting with Trump’s “big lie” will not be confined merely to GOP primary politics. Even Republicans in general elections think they need to humor that lie, or tread carefully around it, to keep the MAGA base engaged.
But when it comes to the rest of the voters, Youngkin might soon learn that those who soil themselves with the stain of Trumpism cannot erase it quite as effortlessly as they might have thought.