Keep Your Eye on Virginia, Mr. Youngkin

Glenn Youngkin addressing the Nebraska Republican Party convention. Photo credit: Nebraska Republican Party by way of the Nebraska Examiner.

by James A. Bacon

The buzz in the national media about Governor Glenn Youngkin’s national political aspirations is reaching a cicada-like crescendo. Over the weekend, Virginia’s Governor spoke to the Nebraska Republican Party at the invitation of Cornhusker Governor Pete Rickets. As the Nebraska Examiner put it, “Many conservatives see Youngkin’s win in Virginia as a model for harnessing the energy of base voters who love former President Donald Trump, without turning off suburban voters, who do not. ”

Youngkin has been coy about his intentions. “I think that there’s a lot of speculation around presidential stuff, and therefore my head’s down, I’m paying attention to Virginia,” he told the Examiner. “I’m helping out other governors.”

Youngkin may have a winning political formula that could play well across the country. I don’t know. But I do know there’s something he does not have: a proven track record at governing.

I’ve been encouraged by what he has said and done so far, but the first six months in office for a Virginia governor don’t tell you much. Youngkin stepped into office days before the 2022 General Assembly came into session. He was handed a budget by outgoing Governor Ralph Northam, and lawmakers were dealing with bills that had been in the works for months. As is true with every incoming Virginia governor, he could only tinker at the margins.

The next 12 months will tell tale of how good he is at governing.

The Virginia electorate closely resembles the racial/ethnic/demographic mix of the United States. The state legislature in Virginia, like the U.S. Congress, is closely divided between Democrats and Republicans. Like the U.S., Virginia has developed an iron triad in which the Democratic Party, advocacy groups expert in lawfare, and a mainstream media committed to “social justice” now dominate the public discourse. The Left has the power to frame the issues that command public attention.

Thus, to give but one example, a 2021 traffic stop and tasing of an African-American motorist in the Town of Windsor (in which no one was injured and the driver was let off without a ticket) warranted far more media attention than newly released 2021 Crime in Virginia data documenting the second year of a homicide surge that killed African-Americans in vastly disproportionate numbers. The traffic stop fit the media’s systemic-racism narrative, the homicide data did not.

If Youngkin can enact his agenda in the teeth of opposition from media, Democrats, a phalanx of Leftist lawfare warriors, and partisan state employees leaking grievances to friendly media — the same handicaps Republicans contend with nationally — he can demonstrate that he may have the chops to do so nationally. But until he can prove himself, he’s just another fresh face. Right now, he needs to focus 100% of his attention on getting things done in Virginia.

Youngkin follows a long line of Virginia governors who have entertained fantasies of presidential office — Doug Wilder, George Allen, Jim Gilmore, Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, and Terry McAuliffe. Only Kaine came close.

News flash: Virginia may be the mother of presidents, but it’s been a long time since a Virginian won the presidency. From the perspective of national politics, we’re just another state. At least the aforementioned Virginia governors had records of proven accomplishment they could run on. Youngkin doesn’t have that yet. Please finish out your term, Governor. Virginians elected you to win the battles here at home.