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Opinion Youngkin’s tip line bumble should be a lesson to the new governor

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) after his inauguration on Jan. 15 in Richmond. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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I was going to use this space to offer up a way-too-early look at the race for the 2025 GOP gubernatorial nomination. But a funny thing happened on the way to punditry.

As in pranks — a lot of them, apparently — directed to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s (R) ripe for parody email tip line where the concerned, aggrieved, bored and others can air their concerns about parents’ rights and allegedly “divisive” school practices.

The inevitable mockery followed — and will likely pick up speed so that the tip line is quietly taken off line and no one speaks of it again.

Let’s be charitable and call the whole idea an “unforced error.”

It’s not the first time a Virginia pol, flush with success and eager to flex his political muscles for the base, dove headfirst in the mockery pool.

One famous example was one-time Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, who, a few months into his term, decided to issue his staff lapel pins with a more modest version of the state seal on them. Rather than the long-existing seal, which shows the goddess Virtus, with one breast bare, standing triumphantly over a fallen tyrant, the Cuccinelli version adopted a Confederate-era version of Virtus, fully covered in an armored breastplate.

Of course, mockery followed this, too. So much so, that Cuccinelli had to backtrack, scrap the pin (now a collector’s item) and promptly blame the media for creating a distraction he built, furnished and decorated.

The only difference here is Cuccinelli, unlike Youngkin, was no political novice, having spent several years in the state Senate. He knew better — and if somehow he didn’t, those closest to him who did should have said something.

For newbie officeholder Youngkin, it’s tempting to think he will learn from this episode, think more carefully, if not strategically, about how he connects with his base and put the tip line behind him.

It’s a big ask of statewide officeholders. Regardless of party, incumbents are loath to admit mistakes — even the most trivial ones, like Youngkin’s tip line or Cuccinelli’s lapel pin.

When an apology or other reckoning is absolutely unavoidable, the results range from cringeworthy to laughable. Former governor Ralph Northam (D), for example, initially took blame for the infamous medical school yearbook photo that nearly cost him his office. But he quickly backtracked, hunkered down and held on. As his term reached its close, Northam blamed someone else for the whole thing.

There’s also the Robert F. McDonnell (R) approach. That included releasing an apology for the Jonnie R. Williams scandal on Twitter, an apology that had the then-governor asking for forgiveness “for the embarrassment certain members of my family and I brought upon my beloved Virginia and her citizens.” When that failed to satisfy folks — least of all the federal prosecutors who eventually charged him with corruption — McDonnell apologized again for creating an “adverse public impression.”

We can go a little further back, to the case of former Virginia Gov. Chuck Robb, who — very, very grudgingly — admitted to a getting a nude back rub (or six) from model Tai Collins. And never mind the whole eavesdropping scandal that circled around Robb and his rival, former governor L. Douglas Wilder. Robb denied the whole thing.

Of course, Youngkin’s tip line gaffe doesn’t come close to the genuine scandals and legal peril some of his predecessors faced. And there is zero reason to think the strait-laced Youngkin will ever fall prey to the problems these other governors created for themselves.

But let the tip line stumble — funny as it is — serve as a lesson for the new governor: When everyone is watching you, nothing is too small it can’t become a big pain in the neck.