Glenn Youngkin’s big victory in Virginia has made some Republican insiders understand how the assertive but harmless style of the governor-elect on the stump applies to the party’s efforts to reclaim the White House.
Youngkin has reclaimed ground lost by Republicans in the suburbs under former President Donald Trump without losing conservative grassroots voters in rural communities. Party alumni hope to replicate the governor-elect’s success in racing across the country in next year’s midterm elections – and ultimately in the 2024 presidential election. To do so, they need a candidate equipped for Youngkin-style politics and who can survive a primary and hold the GOP coalition together in a general election.
“I think it’s less of a person but more of a character,” said a Republican agent. “In no way did Youngkin look like Trump. He reminded me of a guy who approves my expense reports. This is the first step in all of this. When Terry McAuliffe accused him of being Trump, he failed the smell test.
Youngkin, 54, a career private investor, defeated McAuliffe, 64, the former governor, in Tuesday’s election. He was leading by 2.5 percentage points, with most constituencies reporting in a state President Joe Biden won more than 10 points a year ago and which had not elected a Republican governor since 2009. Youngkin’s victory rested on two key pillars.
He was acceptable to mainstream Republicans and swing voters, many of whom were uncomfortable with Trump and backed Biden in Virginia last November. Youngkin capitalized on their willingness to consider voting for him by speaking of their anxiety about the economy and their frustration with public schools. But just as importantly, Youngkin has enjoyed the support of grassroots Republicans who revere the 45th President. They voted en masse for the governor-elect.
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On CNN exit from the ballot box, Youngkin won 97% of the GOP vote, 54% of independents, 93% of self-proclaimed conservatives and just under 40% of centrists. Importantly, the governor-elect won the suburbs, collecting 53%, and dominated in small towns and rural enclaves with 63%. During Trump’s day, white college-educated voters moved away from the GOP, but Youngkin almost shared his support with McAuliffe, receiving 47%.
Meanwhile, Trump’s rural vote in 2016 and 2020 came out in droves and brought 76% of their support to the governor-elect.
“What Youngkin managed to achieve with regard to the Trump issue was nothing short of a miracle,” Republican strategist Jim Dornan said. “Can this model be reproduced in the presidential race in 2024? May be.”
If Trump runs in 2024, the discussion of applying the Youngkin model to the party’s presidential candidate would be moot.
The polarizing former president is unlikely to make any adjustments to his provocative style and could overwhelm the main trying competitors, as he did in 2016. Then, like today, voters were drawn to Trump because he cultivated the image of a “fighter” and effectively communicated to GOP primary voters that he would fight for them – against anyone, Democrat or Republican, politicians or the media, even a man or woman in the House. chance in the street.
But if Trump chooses not to run, the 2024 primary campaign starts off as a middle ground, and Youngkin’s “happy warrior” approach makes the contest more viable.
Some of the Republicans mentioned as potential presidential candidates seem better suited than others to embrace this strategy, including Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley, Governor of Maryland Larry Hogan, Former Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina.
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“Oddly enough, I think it could be Pence,” said a Republican strategist based in the Midwest near the former vice president’s home state of Indiana. “He’s in the best position to say what voters open to a center-right candidate consistently say they want: someone who will do what Trump has done in politics without the damaging rhetoric.”
It’s unclear whether the Youngkin model would work in a presidential campaign.