The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The presidential chatter about Youngkin misses the obvious

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Feb. 3 in Alexandria. (Robb Hill for The Washington Post)

It’s July in a midterm election year, which means it’s time for political prognosticators to look deeply into their tea cups to divine who is likely to run for the major party presidential nominations in 2024.

Among the names being dropped around these parts is Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R). Though the Youngkin boomlet might flatter his ego, cheer his staff and make it even easier for him to book time on Fox News, it’s time for a reality check.

Youngkin won’t be a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024.

It won’t be for lack of ambition, like so many Virginia governors before him. Youngkin might wake up every morning humming “Hail to the Chief” as stares in the bathroom mirror, but reality has crushed every single one of those momentary reveries.

The odds are too long, the competition — with or without former president Donald Trump in the mix — will be too fierce. And the cost? Youngkin is a wealthy man, but national contests can make chumps of even the wealthiest (just ask former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg about his $900 million flop in the 2020 Democratic primaries).

Instead, the most realistic play for the commonwealth’s tyro is the Senate — a challenge to Sen. Tim Kaine (D) in 2024 or Sen. Mark R. Warner (D) in 2026.

Karen Tumulty: Why Youngkin — or someone like him — must run in 2024

Youngkin could make a formidable run against either, matching them not just in organizational power — which Youngkin masterfully deployed to win both the GOP gubernatorial nomination and the general election in 2021 — but also in money.

Republicans have long worried that if they ever dared mount a sharp-elbowed challenge to the (personally very wealthy) Warner, for example, Warner would loosen his personal purse strings and bury them. In his 2020 race against Republican Daniel Gade, Warner’s team spent more than $15 million. Warner won 56-44 percent. A strong win, to be sure. But hardly enough to scare away a challenger like Youngkin.

What about Kaine? The longtime fixture in Virginia politics survived the wreck of the 2016 Clinton-Kaine campaign to win reelection to the Senate in 2018, handily defeating GOP nominee Corey A. Stewart 57-41 percent. Kaine’s reelection effort spent more than $17 million on that contest.

Youngkin’s 2021 gubernatorial campaign spent a staggering $68.1 million to defeat former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe (D) by a little more than 63,000 votes. McAuliffe spent $69.3 million.

Money, then, barely registers as a concern for a Youngkin Senate run. Kaine and Warner should be prepping right now for the possibility Youngkin’s real intention isn’t mounting a quixotic presidential bid but taking on one of them right here at home.

But let’s take the Youngkin presidential boomlet at face value and say he’s going to run. What stands in his way?

Experience, money, organization, buzz — a host of things that any would-be presidential candidate needs to get beyond the early primary rounds. And even if Youngkin checks all these boxes in 2023 or 2024, it might not be enough. Ask former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R) how things went in 2016 when he had all of that, plus a presidential pedigree, going for him.

Or take just one of the would-be 2024 contenders, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). It’s no secret DeSantis harbors national ambitions, and his reelection bank account shows he’s got a lot of very deep-pocketed fans in Florida and across the country who very much want him to be the GOP standard-bearer in 2024.

The $100 million DeSantis has already raised could balloon to $200 million, or more — far more than he needs to win this November. It’s possible some of that stash could be rolled into a super PAC, which DeSantis could then use as he wants. And that effort might have a distinct Virginia flavor: Phil Cox, who managed Robert F. McDonnell’s (R) landslide gubernatorial win in 2009, is on Team DeSantis.

Could Youngkin compete on that level? Some certainly think so, and Youngkin would be wise not to disabuse them of that notion. It could come in handy when Youngkin makes a 2024 run — against Kaine. Or a 2026 run against Warner.