early and often

A Late-Entry Candidate Won’t Save Republicans From Trump

Will Youngkin sweep in late and defeat Trump? It’s very, very unlikely. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

One of the best signs that Ron DeSantis’s 2024 presidential candidacy is circling the drain is the renewed enthusiasm some Republicans have for a late entry in the 2024 race who can save them from the Donald Trump and his unsatisfying rivals. This recent valentine to Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin from the New York Post’s Miranda Devine is a good example of the longing for Mr. Right on the right:

The genial former private equity chief executive is living proof that “conservative common sense policies work,” in a state that he sees as a microcosm of America. …

A 6-foot-7 gentle giant with a perpetual smile, he already looks presidential, but says he is bemused by growing pressure to enter the presidential race, as Ron DeSantis falters and Trump is ensnared in Machiavellian Democratic lawfare. …

While not explicitly ruling out a late presidential entry, he says he is “laser-focused” on Virginia’s pivotal legislative election in November.

You get the sense that Devine still imagines that once Youngkin has saved his state for good this fall, he can turn his magnificent visage and towering figure toward the needs of his nation. It’s probably not coincidental that Devine’s boss is News Corporation’s Rupert Murdoch, who in July was reported to have been shifting his affections to Youngkin from the disappointing DeSantis. Indeed, as Media Matters noted at about the same time, Fox News had taken up the banner of promoting Youngkin as a dark horse candidate for president:

Youngkin has been featured in at least 6 live interviews on Fox in the past month — one each on Fox & Friends, Fox & Friends Weekend, America’s Newsroom, and Fox News Tonight, and twice on Hannity.

Fox & Friends co-hosts Kayleigh McEnany and Steve Doocy pushed Youngkin to run in 2024, with Doocy noting that “powerful Republican donors … are encouraging you to jump into the race …”

The narrative seems to be emerging on Fox News that if Youngkin can flip control of the Virginia Senate to his party in November, he could roll right into a late presidential bid on the wings of this fresh demonstration of his blue state viability.

But how feasible is that sort of timetable? Not very.

Sure, in the years before the universal adoption of primaries and state party caucuses to choose presidential nominees in the early 1970s, late entries able to command support from favorite-son candidates and local party leaders could and sometimes did win. As late as 1968, Hubert Humphrey won the Democratic nomination without entering a single primary, and the same year Ronald Reagan announced a credible (if not successful) presidential bid on the very eve of the GOP convention. In 1952 Democrats drafted Adlai Stevenson (who had never announced his candidacy) at their convention, and eight years later nearly did it again (John F. Kennedy held off a Stevenson effort that only emerged at the convention).

But in recent decades, successful candidacies have never been last-minute affairs, and they were invariably launched in time to compete in the early primaries and caucuses, as NPR reported in October of 2015 when Joe Biden was considering (and ultimately rejected) a late entry:

[F]rom 1996 onward the announcements came earlier. Almost all eventual nominees for both parties made official starts in the spring and early summer, between 500 and 650 days before that first Tuesday in November.

There have been two notable — but also futile — recent examples of serious efforts to launch and execute a late presidential entry. In January 2012, three different candidates won the first three Republican contests, creating fears of a divisive nomination fight stretching to the convention. There was talk of drafting former Florida governor Jeb Bush to enter the contest late and unite the party; it didn’t completely subside until Bush endorsed Mitt Romney after the ultimate nominee had a stubborn challenge from Rick Santorum.

The recent late entry that did happen was among Democrats in 2020, when former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg jumped into the presidential contest informally in November 2019 and formally a month later (about the same time frame Youngkin’s fans seem to be contemplating). The late start led him to skip Iowa and New Hampshire (never a successful strategy in the primary era), much as Youngkin might have to do if he waits until November to get serious about running for president.

Glenn Youngkin is pretty wealthy, but not at all at the level of billionaire-many-times-over Bloomberg, who instantly made himself a credible presidential candidate by spending roughly a half-billion dollars spread around Super Tuesday states (the final count on Bloomberg’s spending might have reached close to a cool billion). The former mayor (and former Republican) didn’t, of course, last too long on the campaign trail; after he was brutally dismantled by Elizabeth Warren in a Las Vegas debate in February 2020, the Bloomberg campaign quickly crashed and burned, being ground up in the competition between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders that eventually characterized the latter stages of the nomination contest.

But this account leads me to the one slim possibility of something Youngkin ’24 might have in common with Bloomberg ’20 that’s an asset instead of a liability. Until he crashed and Biden made his famous comeback, Bloomberg was made momentarily viable by the palpable fear among Democratic centrists that Bernie Sanders was going to win the nomination and hand Donald Trump a second term. Could electability-minded Republicans panic enough about Trump’s 2024 viability to need a sudden savior like Youngkin right before voters start voting early next year?

Anything’s possible, but the entire reason Murdoch and Devine and others are yearning for Youngkin is that Trump is crushing the current Republican field. Yes, he’s in ever-increasing legal peril, and sure, Trump could say or do anything at any moment. But at this point, the odds are much higher that Trump will have effectively nailed down the GOP nomination by late this fall than that an aggrieved Republican majority will be searching for an alternative having rejected DeSantis, Scott, Pence, Haley, Ramaswamy, Christie, Hutchinson, Suarez, and Hurd. Politicians tend to look for late-entry saviors precisely because they’ve already lost. If you hear more and more cries for Glenn Youngkin as the weeks go by, you can probably bet they are being voiced by losers as well.

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A Late-Entry Candidate Won’t Save Republicans From Trump