Is Youngkin's handling of Trump in Virginia victory a guide for the GOP going forward?

Glenn Youngkin win gives GOP blueprint for 2022

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on Republican Glenn Youngkin defeating former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in the gubernatorial race in Virginia.

Former President Donald Trump was quick to take credit for Republican Glenn Youngkin’s victory over former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in Virginia’s closely watched gubernatorial showdown, a statewide election with national implications.

“I would like to thank my BASE for coming out in force and voting for Glenn Youngkin. Without you, he would not have been close to winning. The MAGA movement is bigger and stronger than ever before,” the former president said in one in a slew of statements he fired off on election night.

Trump parachuted into the race at the last minute, holding a brief tele-rally on behalf of Youngkin, a first-time candidate and a former private equity CEO who hails from the Republican Party’s business wing. And in the final stretch before Tuesday’s election, the former president’s political team tells Fox News they sent out more than a quarter of a million texts to Trump supporters in the commonwealth, urging them to vote for Youngkin.

Trump endorsed Youngkin in May, which helped the candidate win a contested nomination race decided in a state convention-style election among activists rather than a wider primary of Republican voters. And during the course of the entire race, Trump sent out nine endorsements of Youngkin.

While Youngkin embraced Trump’s backing, he carefully and successfully navigated a political tightrope, appeasing the MAGA world and other conservative voters while keeping the former president at arm’s length during the general election, as he appealed to suburban voters who had abandoned the GOP during Trump’s tenure in the White House.

McAuliffe, battling an enthusiasm gap among Democrats, campaigned in the commonwealth with top names in the Democratic Party – including President Biden (who carried the state by 10 points one year ago), Vice President Kamala Harris, and former President Barack Obama (who won Virginia in both of his White House victories). But Youngkin eschewed stumping together with Trump as well as other major GOP figures and instead focused his campaign on what he called “everyday Virginians.”

On the eve of the election, Youngkin noticeably declined to take part in Trump’s virtual event and instead held his own closing rally at the same time.

“It is just killing Trump that he is not here, obviously,” McAuliffe surmised. 

But the former president, who’s famous for his public demands of loyalty from fellow Republicans, allowed Youngkin to go his own way without suffering retribution. Trump, instead, repeatedly praised the GOP nominee in the closing days.

“I’ve gotten to know him so well and our relationship is so great,” Trump touted during his tele-rally. And he charged that “the fake news media would like to say something else because they want our big, giant, beautiful base… to not vote as much as they are going to.” 

Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin arrives to speak at an election night party in Chantilly, Virginia, early Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021, after he defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe. 
((AP Photo/Andrew Harnik))

Youngkin’s two-pronged approach appeared to work, as he made major gains with suburban voters. McAuliffe won Loudoun County, which Biden carried by 25 points a year ago, by just 11 points. Youngkin also well overperformed Trump’s 2020 support in Fairfax and Prince William counties in Northern Virginia, Henrico and Chesterfield counties surrounding the capital city of Richmond, and the Hampton Roads suburbs in the southeastern tip of the commonwealth.

Youngkin’s success in the suburbs was fueled by his tapping into parents’ anger with their local school boards. But Youngkin also took aim at critical race theory to energize Trump’s base. Youngkin scored bigger margins over McAuliffe than Trump did over Biden last year in some of the reddest counties in the western parts of the state.

“The number one rule of politics is you have to have a united base to win just about any campaign,” Tucker Martin, a veteran Virginia-based GOP consultant, told Fox News. “I think Glenn Youngkin did a great job in doing that.”

Martin, a veteran of numerous GOP gubernatorial campaigns in Virginia who served as communications director for former GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell, said Youngkin “was free to go out and be Glenn Youngkin and speak about the issues that mattered and introduce himself on his own terms. That was possible, and some people won’t like this, because Donald Trump isn’t in the White House.”

He added that “it’s not easy to do what Glenn Youngkin did” but that it can be a model for Republicans running in the 2022 midterms, when the GOP aims to win back majorities in the House and Senate.

But Democrats say that’s easier said than done.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson Chris Taylor told Fox News that Republicans are “mistaken if they think they can easily emulate a campaign that skipped a messy GOP primary, had no political record to defend, and routinely kept President Trump at arm’s length.”

For Democrats, the Virginia election was the first major test in a competitive state of their ability to fire up their base in the post-Trump presidency era. 

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom of California easily survived a gubernatorial recall election in September, in part by tying the leading GOP replacement candidate – conservative talk radio host Larry Elder – to Trump. McAuliffe used the same playbook, never wasting an opportunity to link Youngkin to the former president. But it became apparent that Youngkin was no Larry Elder, and that Virginia’s a far different political landscape than the overwhelmingly blue state of California.

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