The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Why Glenn Youngkin — or someone like him — must run in 2024

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks at an event at a restaurant in Woodbridge, Va., on June 22, (Steve Helber/AP)
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Virginia’s new Republican governor is seriously thinking of running for president in 2024. And that’s good news.

My Richmond-based Post colleagues Laura Vozzella and Gregory S. Schneider wrote last week of the telltale clues: Gov. Glenn Youngkin recently made an unannounced visit to New York City, where he met with a handful of GOP megadonors. His speeches now are sprinkled with more references to the needs of “Americans,” not just “Virginians.” He is doing more media interviews outside the conservative bubble. He even sat down last month with The Post editorial board — which was not, to put it mildly, supportive of his 2021 gubernatorial bid.

Presidential soundings may be presumptuous for a former private-equity guy who never held public office until January and who is constitutionally limited to a single term there. There are plenty of Democrats who believe the man who campaigned as a sunny suburban dad in a zippered vest is really a Trump in fleece clothing. But Virginia — which was trending blue until his victory — is clearly warming up to Youngkin. His poll numbers have turned positive, and disapproval has shown a significant drop.

The reason I’d like to see him — or someone like him — make a serious run for president has more to do with an existential crisis that faces our democracy. It is crucial that this country have a healthy two-party system. Someone must test the proposition that there are still enough sane Republicans out there to create a path to the nomination for a candidate who offers himself as an alternative, rather than an amplification, of the worst aspects of Trumpism.

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What we’ve seen so far — and it is early — suggests that former president Donald Trump himself is determined to run in 2024. We also know he stands a strong chance of winning the Republican nomination and a reasonable one, God forbid, of returning to the White House. If he doesn’t make another bid (and perhaps even if he does), there are a host of Trump wannabes making their preparations to flood the zone.

Leading that pack is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who not only refuses to say whether he accepts that Joe Biden legitimately won in 2020, but also has signed legislation to create the nation’s only police agency to crack down on what he acknowledged has been nonexistent voter fraud in his state. A federal judge struck down provisions of a restrictive election law DeSantis signed last year, agreeing with a lawsuit that claimed it “runs roughshod over the right to vote.”

Undermining election integrity is not the only area in which DeSantis escalates the worst impulses of his Mar-a-Lago constituent. He took away tax breaks from Walt Disney World after its corporate parent criticized Florida’s “don’t say gay” law banning instruction or classroom discussion in the lower grades of sexual orientation or gender identity. He also vetoed funding for a facility for the Tampa Bay Rays after the team spoke up against recent mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Tex.

Youngkin, it should be noted, has played close to the Trumpian line in some areas, and sometimes crossed it. But his has been a balancing act. He put “election integrity” at the top of his priorities during his campaign, but also acknowledged Biden’s 2020 victory and called the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection “a real blight on our democracy.” His first executive order banned teaching “inherently divisive concepts, including critical race theory,” in K-12 public education, but he criticized his health commissioner, Colin Greene, for dismissing structural racism as a reason for poor Black maternal health.

As it happened, Youngkin was meeting with Post editors, reporters and editorial writers when the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade came down June 24. “I am a pro-life governor; I also am very, very aware of Virginia,” he said, before laying out his position in the post-Roe world: He would sign a bill putting a 20-week limit on abortion if the legislature sends him one, but he would prefer a 15-week ban. He would also allow exceptions in cases of rape, incest and threat to the life of the mother.

That would allow the vast majority of abortions to continue to be performed in Virginia as they are today; the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics show that 93 percent of U.S. abortions are performed by 13 weeks’ gestation, which is before either cutoff Youngkin mentioned. Fewer than 1 percent happen at 21 weeks or later. Meanwhile, most Americans — even those among the majority who support abortion — also say the right should become more limited as a pregnancy advances.

It will be worth keeping a closer eye on Youngkin as he begins to lift his national profile. Republicans have won the popular vote in only one presidential election since 1988. He may not be the guy to end that drought. But it is past time for them to find someone who is.