With his victory in the Virginia gubernatorial race, Glenn Youngkin wrote a new Republican playbook for keeping Donald Trump’s base engaged without alienating the voters who were repelled by the former President in recent elections.
That’s despite running against a rival, Democratic former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, whose closing message – in speeches, debates and television advertisements – was devoted almost entirely to convincing voters that Youngkin was no different than Trump.
Republicans say Youngkin’s win offers the party lessons it can apply across the 2022 midterm election landscape. Youngkin walked a tightrope on the right-wing grievances being fueled by conservative media. He said he favors auditing voting machines regularly, without embracing Trump’s lies about widespread voter fraud. He said he would ban critical race theory, but characterized his position as favoring teaching “the good and the bad” of history without pitting children against each other.
Mostly, though, he focused on a broader education message – as well as kitchen-table economic issues such as eliminating the grocery tax and suspending the most recent increase in Virginia’s gas tax – that appealed to voters outside of Trump’s base.
“Youngkin winning shows that ‘Stop the Steal’ isn’t the winning formula for purple states,” a Georgia Republican operative said.
It was a performance that came with the electoral upside that Trump had brought the GOP with its base – without the cost of losing moderates and independents. Youngkin delivered a dominant, Trump-like performance among White voters in rural Virginia. But he also won back a share of the suburbanites who had abandoned Trump and handed Democrats control of the House in 2018 and the presidency in 2020.
“The biggest thing Youngkin was able to do was bridge the gap between the increasingly populist base and some of the more mild-mannered traditional Republicans voters who blanched at Trump’s style,” said veteran Republican strategist Liam Donovan.