The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Youngkin needs to decide where his priorities lie

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), right, speaks with Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R), center, and his son, Roscoe Ricketts, left, July 9 at the Nebraska GOP state convention in Kearney, Neb. (Gregory Schneider/The Washington Post)
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It was fun while it lasted, eh, governor? The talk that you might be real presidential timber, despite just six months or so on the job, had to be deeply, personally satisfying.

It was never realistic. Bigger names, with more formidable political operations, always stood in the way of a credible national run. And even if Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s (R) consultants could chart a path though those obstacles, the most important and most confounding remained: former president Donald Trump.

And according to The Post’s Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey, Trump might declare his candidacy for the 2024 GOP nomination this September — or even sooner.

Regardless of the timing, if Trump’s in, Youngkin’s already-thin national hopes fizzle. Sure, he can still tour the rubber chicken circuit for GOP candidates and state parties, as he did recently in Nebraska and Colorado.

But that’s about it. Anything more would be seen as treachery from Team Trump, and the retribution would be swift.

Let’s assume that Youngkin is as smart as he appears, gets out of Trump’s way and sticks to supporting candidates on this November’s ballot.

That leaves Youngkin with a tremendous opportunity to build a national profile (and Rolodex) for whatever his next step might be. (I still think it’s a Senate run).

But along with this opportunity comes enormous downside. About that nice visit to Nebraska? It was more than just a favor to a fellow Axiom Strategies client and GOP gubernatorial nominee Jim Pillen. It was a cautionary tale of what happens when a politician leaves the comparatively friendly confines of his own political world.

Youngkin walked into the midst of an intraparty bloodletting. It seems a group of GOP regulars didn’t like Gov. Pete Ricketts bossing them around and actively intervening in primaries — such as the one in which Pillen won the nomination over Trump-backed candidate Charles Herbster (who was accused of sexual misconduct late in the campaign, charges Herbster vehemently denied and alleged were an “unfounded, dirty political trick” he linked back to Ricketts).

This group successfully tossed the party leadership and installed like-minded folks who wouldn’t bow to Ricketts or his gang of RINOs. And there was also this: “Many in the winning group wore red dot pins that several said signifies they believe Trump’s unproven allegations about the 2020 election….”

Recall that Youngkin had his own take on “election integrity” back in the 2021 gubernatorial campaign. He played footsie with the Trumpish election denialists but never went the Full Monty and claimed the election was stolen.

That position, as baseless as it is senseless, is also nearly impossible to avoid in Republican circles.

Consider Mr. Youngkin’s stop in Colorado for GOP gubernatorial nominee Heidi Ganahl.

It produced a nice photo op, but it again brought Youngkin into proximity with the election-denier wing of the party. It’s not Ganahl but Danny Moore, whom Ganahl chose to run on the ticket as lieutenant governor. Moore is an election denier. And not just any election denier, but one who espoused his unfounded accusations about stolen elections while serving as chairman of the state’s independent redistricting commission. He was forced to resign.

But this is just Youngkin’s first swing through the country as a fresh, new face. He can make a few mistakes and come out okay, right? Sure. But the more Youngkin tours the country and finds himself sharing the limelight with election deniers, grievance mongers and other unsavory types, the more likely it is some of that stench gets stuck to him.

Not exactly the look (or smell) Youngkin needs when he gets back to the relatively friendly confines of Virginia politics.

What’s an ambitious pol on the make to do then? Sit in Richmond and let other politicians scour the country doing favors and collecting political IOUs? Well, yes. Youngkin’s first responsibility isn’t to help his political consultant’s other clients with their races but to help Virginia Republicans continue to work their way out of the wilderness.

That’s what Virginia governors who want to build legacies for themselves and their party do.