It’s no secret that the needle Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin needs to thread if he wants to upset Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia gubernatorial election that concludes on November 2 is to get the conservative base vote all excited without appearing too cozy with Donald Trump, whom suburban swing voters do not especially like, as evidenced by the 44 percent Trump registered in the Commonwealth in both 2016 and 2020.
Accordingly, the very wealthy investment counselor was just Trumpy enough during the Republican nominating contest to win, and then earn the Boss’s endorsement, but has given the former president and particularly his Big Lie about the stolen 2020 election a very wide berth while posing as an “outsider businessman” candidate who just wants to give his state the benefit of his entrepreneurial wizardry and stolid middle-class values. Ideally Youngkin would like the MAGA get-out-the-vote zaniness to take place under the radar while he romances the kind of people who were horrified when Trump and his fans let their freak flag fly on January 6.
So this event was definitely off-script, particularly less than three weeks before Election Day:
Former President Donald Trump and other Republicans tried to fire up the party’s right-wing base ahead of Virginia’s critical November elections Wednesday, at a rally marked by falsehoods about the 2020 election and tirades against vaccine and mask mandates.
The party’s nominee for governor, Glenn Youngkin, did not attend the event but got a warm embrace from Trump, who called in by phone, to urge a crowd of a few hundred in suburban Richmond to get out to vote for the businessman and first-time candidate. …
Other speakers at the “Take Back Virginia Rally” included former Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon; Rep. Mark Finchem of Arizona, who has worked to overturn Trump’s 2020 loss in the state; and Virginia state Sen. Amanda Chase, a prominent promoter of election fraud conspiracy theories. It was organized by conservative talk-show host John Fredericks, a former Trump campaign chairman in Virginia.
In addition to a brief re-endorsement of Youngkin, Trump served up the usual Big Lie fare. But what really made the clambake stand out is that attendees pledged allegiance to a U.S. flag that had been brandished during the January 6 festivities. The only thing worse for Youngkin than a direct link to Trump at this late stage of his campaign is a reminder of the insurrection that MAGA folk are increasingly treating as a great moment in history that may need to be repeated before long.
So even as McAuliffe and current governor Ralph Northam raise holy hell about the event, Youngkin had been dancing — at first professing innocent wonder that anyone would object to a pledge of allegiance to the Stars and Stripes, but then with evident alarm distancing himself from the whole thing in a statement:
While I had no role in last night’s event, I have heard about it from many people in the media today. It is weird and wrong to pledge allegiance to a flag connected to January 6. As I have said many times before, the violence that occurred on January 6 was sickening and wrong.
Youngkin’s panic was evidenced by the weird pivot in that statement to an attack on NARAL Pro Choice America, the venerable abortion-rights organization that has endorsed McAuliffe, as “a radical group, NARAL, that wants to defund our police.” Really? Seriously?
Like any candidate caught letting the left hand do something the right hand allegedly deplores, Youngkin made it clear that he was his own man, saying “[t]he person that’s going to be campaigning here for the next two and half weeks is Glenn Youngkin. I am on the ballot.” He refused to answer questions about whether he would be pleased if Trump descended on the Old Dominion without his sanction. If the “Take Back Virginia” rally is any indication, Youngkin really doesn’t have control over his most essential benefactor and most dangerous ally.