If You Think Trump’s a Menace, Elect Youngkin
Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic Party, and a crew of “Never Trump” conservatives have tried to make the race a referendum on the former president. It isn’t working.
Democrats just can’t quit Trump. At least, that’s the case in Virginia, where Republican Glenn Youngkin wants to move past the former guy, and Democrat Terry McAuliffe seems desperate to keep Trump front and center.
The news we should be celebrating? After years of enduring Trumpian controversies, voters are ravenous for a non-crazy Republican. There’s pent-up demand. And Youngkin, with the look and feel of a Mitt Romney, has given suburban voters permission to vote Republican and not feel bad about it. In a way, it feels like coming home again.
Not everyone wants a homecoming, though. Some of my prominent Never Trump friends believe the Republican Party can only be restored by first burning it all down—starting in Virginia. Here’s a sampling from the last couple days:
Washington Post columnist Max Boot wrote, “We don’t have the luxury of ‘moving on’ from the events of Jan. 6 to focus on ordinary issues as urged by so many Republicans, including Virginia gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin. Democracy is on the ballot in Virginia—and in every other state between now and 2024.”
Radio host and former Congressman Joe Walsh tweeted, “Donald Trump is a corrupt, lawless, treasonous authoritarian. He’s a unique threat to our democracy. Therefore, I oppose ANY Republican who does not publicly oppose Trump. ANY Republican.”
And—in response to my tweet questioning why Never Trump should equal Always McAuliffe—Sarah Longwell, publisher of The Bulwark, replied, “I can’t understand how a conservative—who understands the unique danger Trump poses to the country and his destruction of conservatism—could support a party, and candidates like Youngkin, who have embraced (even coyly) Trump and his destructive lies for political gain.”
The message (which Joe Biden and Barack Obama have also delivered in appearances for McAuliffe) seems to be that unless you give a full-throated condemnation of Trump, you’re just as bad as the white supremacists at the “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville—thus the fabulously ill-considered stunt the Lincoln Party belatedly fessed up to pulling where it paid people to show up at a Youngkin rally dressed up as tiki-torch carrying “supporters of his.”
What these voices are really advocating is a sort of Catch 22 for Republicans: Either a candidate publicly disavows Trump (guaranteeing they lose) or they don’t (disqualifying them from winning). Heads Youngkin loses, tails McAuliffe wins.
Rather than accepting this Hobson’s choice, Youngkin has sought to “coyly” thread the needle. And while this balancing act—in Youngkin’s case, it involves accepting Trump’s support while keeping him and his surrogates at a distance—obviously increases his electoral chances, it might be the only way the party can heal.
In fairness, the chance to slowly defuse the situation and move past Trump is greatly complicated by the fact that Trump won’t go away, or even acknowledge he lost. That is why I think this is a legitimate debate to have, even though I come down the other side.
For one thing, advocates of the burn-it-all-down strategy keep saying Trump poses a “unique threat” to democracy, but then they turn around and want to defeat even a Mitt Romney-clone. If Trump is a unique danger, why go after a normie businessman running for governor? And—more importantly—if we defeat all the normal Republican candidates for failing this litmus test, we’re left with a self-fulfilling prophecy where a GOP made up of nothing but Matt Gaetzes and Marjorie Taylor-Greenes isn’t worth saving.
The automatic assumption seems to be that Youngkin is a stand-in for Trump, yet there seems to be zero concern that electing McAuliffe means perpetuating progressive policies and undermining values that conservatives—even Never Trump conservatives—once held dear.
It’s one thing for McAuliffe or Obama to make this argument; quite another for conservatives to do so in an election that’s panicking Democrats as it’s become more of a referendum about the current president’s struggles rather than the last one’s..
But while many prominentNever Trump conservatives seem unfazed by the left’s radical agenda, rank-and-file Never Trumpers are not.
Consider the case of Glenn Miller, a McLean lawyer who told The New York Times he is “a Hillary-Biden voter” who voted for Youngkin after overhearing his daughter’s teacher talk about white men as modern-day slaveholders. “My problem with Trump was I thought he was embarrassing. I just don’t think Youngkin is going to embarrass me or the state,” he told the Times.
A Youngkin victory would send a message to both parties. It would remind Republicans that a normal (non-Trumpy) conservative can still win in purple states like Virginia. And it would tell Biden and the left that they’d better pump the brakes, lest they get more of this in the 2022 midterms.
In my estimation, that’s what this election is about.