Virginia’s Republican nominee for governor, Glenn Youngkin, makes no bones about his desire to discredit elections with vague allegations of fraud and unprovable suspicions about election machinery. He’s following the examples of former president Donald Trump, Republican candidate Larry Elder in California’s recall campaign and the fake election auditors in Arizona, who all trotted out the “big lie” of stolen elections (sometimes even before people voted!), driving the MAGA base into new bouts of rage and giving fodder to those who see violence as a permissible means of clinging to power.

“I think we need to make sure that people trust these voting machines,” Youngkin said ominously at a virtual forum with the Richmond Crusade for Voters on Monday. But Virginia already conducted a post-election audit, a fact Youngkin either did not know or was willing to conceal to fan the flames of doubt about the election. This heralds back to Youngkin’s first major policy proposal — one he has had to downplay lately — for an “election integrity task force.”

His opponent, former Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe, bashed Youngkin earlier in the campaign and reminded voters that Youngkin’s effort to sow doubt about the election came straight from the Trump playbook. The Post reported, “Youngkin made the issue the centerpiece of his campaign as he pursued the GOP nomination this year, hoping to court Republicans who agreed with former president Donald Trump’s unfounded claim that Democrats stole the 2020 election.” In July, McAuliffe called on Youngkin to drop out of a GOP “election integrity” rally, which a former GOP congressman dubbed a "conspiracy-palooza.”

Now Youngkin is back at it, winking and nodding to the MAGA base while avoiding the direct allegation that the 2020 election was stolen. He is trying to keep his supporters fired up and Trump on board without tipping his hand to the general electorate by overtly embracing the election conspiracy theories. Should he lose, expect his base to jump on the election “integrity” bandwagon and carry the “big lie” banner to Richmond, wreaking havoc on Virginia politics just as Trump did on a national level.

In response to Youngkin’s latest effort to pander to the MAGA base, McAuliffe shot back, tweeting:

Youngkin seems not to understand that what he says to one group of supporters does not stay with them. By perpetually letting on about his real views (about abortion, vaccines and voting), he plays into McAuliffe’s argument that Youngkin is concealing his radical positions, aiming to turn Virginia into Texas when it comes to abortion, and Florida when it comes to vaccine and mask mandates. (Youngkin at one point urged Virginians to try to opt out of whatever vaccine requirements were imposed.)

In a state that voted for Joe Biden for president in 2020 by a margin of 10 points and that strongly supports vaccine and mask mandates, Youngkin is at pains to feign moderation without alienating MAGA voters and their cult leader. This race is a preview of the sort of tightrope-walk Republicans will be compelled to undertake in competitive races in 2022. They cannot square the MAGA base’s thirst to hear their conspiracy theories confirmed and amplified with the need to appear sensible to large swaths of the electorate, including suburban women, college-educated voters and moderates.

Youngkin apparently thinks the solution is to talk out of both sides of his mouth. McAuliffe’s success in exposing that sort of cynical deception will give some indication as to whether Republicans can pull the same scam in 2022 in the midterms and gubernatorial races.