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Opinion I’m sorry I said nice things about Glenn Youngkin

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) in Smithfield, Va., on Thursday. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

I’d like to take this opportunity to retract the nice things I said about Glenn Youngkin a few months ago.

In July, I wrote a column when reports began to surface that Virginia’s Republican governor, a fresh and sunny political newcomer with proven bipartisan appeal, was already thinking about running for president.

At the time, I expressed hope that Youngkin — or someone like him — would seek the GOP nomination in 2024. His stunning 2021 victory in blue-ish Virginia showed that there might still be room in the Republican Party for a different model of politician, one who could run as a unifying alternative to Donald Trump’s venomous brand.

Optimist that I am, I still hope that a tribune of sanity will emerge in the Republican Party. But the everydad in the fleece vest probably isn’t that guy. When a situation this week called for expressing a modicum of human decency, Youngkin — who frequently talks about his religious values — showed he could rival the former president at diving for the gutter.

As news was breaking Friday about the horrific attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul, by an intruder in their San Francisco home, Youngkin happened to be campaigning in Stafford, Va., for Yesli Vega, the Republican running in a very tight race against Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger.

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“Speaker Pelosi’s husband, they had a break-in last night in their house, and he was assaulted. There’s no room for violence anywhere,” Youngkin said.

Alas, he didn’t stop there.

“But we’re going to send her back to be with him in California,” the governor said. As the crowd cheered, Youngkin doubled down: “That’s what we’re going to go do. That’s what we’re going to go do.”

Speaking at a rally for Virginia Republican congressional candidate Yesli Vega on Oct. 28, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-Va.) commented on an attack on Paul Pelosi. (Video: Glenn Youngkin/Facebook)

Set aside the fact that his joke, if that’s what you can call it, showed a lack of understanding of basic civics and geography. Pelosi is in Washington because she has been elected for the past 35 years by the voters of California. This has nothing to do with anybody in Virginia.

What made Youngkin’s riff not only tasteless but also dangerous is that he was not referring to some random act of “violence anywhere.” The attack on Paul Pelosi was a direct product of the toxic political culture — a culture that the governor was helping to cultivate for what he apparently sees as a political opportunity.

Evidence now indicates that the assailant who beat Pelosi with a hammer, sending the 82-year-old to the hospital with a skull fracture and serious injuries to his arm and hands, had broken into the Pelosi home because he was looking for the speaker herself. Nancy Pelosi has been demonized for years by Republicans, including in countless GOP campaign ads. The attacker’s reported shouts of “Where is Nancy?” were a chilling echo of the Jan. 6, 2021, rioters’ cries as they tried to hunt her down in the corridors of the Capitol.

Karen Tumulty: The shameless revisionism of the Capitol attack cannot be allowed to take root

Being a jerk about Pelosi is not the only Youngkin action of late that betrays who he really is and what he is willing to do in service of his ambition. During his campaign for governor, he managed a tricky balancing act on the election denialism that has gripped his party. He promised to put “election integrity” at the top of his priorities in office — indulging the lie that fraud is rampant — but also acknowledged Joe Biden’s 2020 victory and called the Jan. 6 insurrection “a real blight on our democracy.” And, notably, he kept Trump at a distance.

But more recently, Youngkin is being seen with the worst people in his party. A little over a week ago, he stumped in Arizona for GOP gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake, one of the loudest of those 2020 deniers and someone who has refused to say whether she will accept the results of this year’s election. He called her “awesome,” and she declared him a “total rock star.”

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Asked on CNN about his plans to campaign with Lake, Youngkin replied: “I think that the Republican Party has to be a party where we are not shunning people and excluding them because we don’t agree on everything.” In other words, Youngkin thinks it’s fine to undermine democracy in the cause of lower taxes and school choice.

Karen Tumulty: The sedition didn't stop with the Jan. 6 attack

The governor remains popular in Virginia, with a recent poll showing his approval at 55 percent and most of his constituents saying the state is moving in the right direction. But the commonwealth limits its governors to one consecutive term, which means, come 2024, he will be looking for a new job.

Youngkin might still have some room for redemption, though it is shrinking. He could start by apologizing for his crude joke. So far, all we’ve heard is a statement from his office condemning the violence against the speaker’s husband and saying the governor “wishes him a full recovery and is keeping the Pelosi family in his prayers.” Meanwhile, his turn toward full-bore Trumpism is likely to be for naught. There are plenty of others, including the original, who do it better — and at less cost to their own integrity.