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Glenn Youngkin 2024 Rumors Are Pure Silliness

Yes, the Virginia governor looks pretty tall through the lens of nearby D.C. pundits. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

As it happens, New Jersey and Virginia hold gubernatorial elections in the year following presidential elections. So more often than not, the party that holds the White House tends to do poorly in the ensuing New Jersey/Virginia gubernatorial contests. Indeed, between 1973 and 2021, the candidate of the White House party has won exactly once in Virginia. The candidate who broke that long streak in 2013, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, was again his party’s nominee in 2021. His presence on the ballot and a discernible blue trend in Virginia presidential voting made Republican Glenn Youngkin’s solid victory in November 2021 more notable than it might have otherwise been. But it also confirmed an ancient Virginia gubernatorial voting pattern.

Initially, the Youngkin win got huge attention because of the perception that he found a way to marry right-wing cultural politics to a state issue on which Democrats were usually very strong: public education. A huge McAuliffe gaffe in which the former governor seemed to dismiss the idea of parental involvement in education policy, it was thought, had led to big GOP gains in the upscale suburbs where Virginia Democrats had been doing so very well, up to and including 2020. In reality, a statewide jump in Republican voter turnout may have been as important as Biden voters switching to Youngkin. But in any event, the red-vested private-equity mogul quickly became a symbol of the viability of a post-Trump GOP that was still a bit MAGA but without the madness.

You can judge for yourself whether a post-Trump GOP is a near possibility, and if so, how much MAGA and madness we see in his likely successors. But to a surprising extent, the media remains fascinated with Youngkin, who is off to a meh start as governor, to the extent that there is talk of him running for president in 2024.

That is pure silliness, in my opinion. But Time’s Molly Ball disagrees:

[A]s Youngkin tries his hand at governing for the first time, he has kept up the emphasis on education. He’s taken a series of aggressive actions — from making masks in schools optional to rooting out critical race theory — while simultaneously increasing funding and teacher pay. It’s a new, populist-conservative approach to the issue that Republicans hope could erode Democrats’ longtime advantage. Whether he pulls it off will determine whether he can succeed as a new kind of Republican and potentially usher in a partisan realignment. It also could make him a 2024 Presidential contender, something Republicans inside and outside his orbit see as increasingly likely.

What makes Ball’s take interesting is that she is not focusing on Youngkin’s appeal to the usual conservative Christian parents upset about “wokeness” — many of whom homeschool their kids or send them to private schools in any event — but on a small slice of high-income suburban parents upset about the alleged abandonment of high academic standards in public schools:

Many of the country’s most prestigious schools have eliminated testing for admission based on the disputed claim that the tests are biased — including the public high school ranked No. 1 in the country by U.S. News, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, in Alexandria, Va., where test-based admission had produced a student body that was more than 70% Asian. The state did away with the test, provoking a revolt and lawsuit from Asian parents.

While that incident may have been important locally, in the longer run any emphasis on “parental rights in education” is going to directly conflict with the “high standards in public education” message that Republicans have been steadily abandoning for decades. Maybe Youngkin has temporarily caught political lightning in a bottle by simultaneously appealing to the grievances of those who want rigorous objective standards for public schools and those who want parents, not any testing agency or school board, in charge of what schools do. It’s not a sustainable coalition. To put it bluntly, the conservative Evangelical voters who form the GOP political base in Virginia (and who share many of Youngkin’s own conservative religious views) don’t really care how many kids from elite public schools in the D.C. suburbs get into Harvard.

Education aside, is there something about Youngkin that really makes him presidential timber after just over a year in office? Clearly he has an inner circle of advisers who think so, as the Washington Post reported in June:

Gov. Glenn Youngkin flew to New York last week to meet privately with GOP megadonors in Manhattan, a move that underscores recent hints that the Republican is considering a run for president in 2024.

The day-long visit, which was not listed on Youngkin’s public calendar and included a trio of national TV interviews, comes as the new governor prepares to headline his first out-of-state political event since taking office, with an appearance next week in Nebraska.

So how did that Nebraska trip turn out? Will we look back on it as the soft launch of Youngkin ’24? Again, the Post was there to take temperatures this last weekend:

Many Nebraska Republicans who heard him speak said they would love to see Youngkin run for president — though some cautioned that the next election might be too soon. “I think he needs to continue to work hard for the people of Virginia,” said Jim Bunch, 62, a Nebraska GOP delegate who has lived in Virginia and got his photo taken with Youngkin. “At some point down the road he would be an attractive candidate for national office.”

That could be a long, long road. Youngkin’s trip to Nebraska coincided with two major new polls testing potential Republican candidates for the 2024 nomination. Neither tested Youngkin, but both showed Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis gobbling up three-fourths of the vote. The New York Times/Siena poll had four other possible candidates (Mike Pence, Ted Cruz, Nikki Haley, and Mike Pompeo) holding 21 percent of the vote. “Someone else,” where you’d expect to see latent Youngkin support, came in at one percent.

Politico’s John Harris may have put his finger on why elites see something in Youngkin that regular Republican voters don’t:

The people speculating about Youngkin’s national future don’t much care what he has done or not done for transportation infrastructure in Northern Virginia. They think the 55-year-old former investment banker may have found a formula to make the last six years just fade away — to return to the GOP leadership style we associate with names like Bush and Romney.

Let’s get real. Republicans are very likely going to renominate Donald Trump, who told New York’s Olivia Nuzzi that he’s decided to run in 2024. Even if Trump changes his mind, there are a lot of candidates ahead of Youngkin in line. Yes, crazy things can happen in presidential politics, and Youngkin showed some real skill in 2021. But the bottom line is that he’s a random politician mostly lifted to victory by forces beyond his control, who will fade from view once there are a ton of other “new Republican faces” after the midterms. Yes, as one of the Nebraskans hearing Youngkin speak said, he’s “so tall!” And he looks even taller through the lens of nearby D.C. pundits, who as a matter of convenience try to turn every metro Washington politician into a national figure. But odds are very high that any trip he takes to the White House will be through the visitors’ entrance.

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Glenn Youngkin 2024 Rumors Are Pure Silliness