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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Governor of Virginia, a Rising Star in the Republican Party, Treads a Fine Line

Governor Glenn Youngkin was the most enthusiastic among the lawmakers, local press reporters, and Nansemond River High School marching band members who had assembled in front of the Amazon Robotics Fulfillment Center.

“Oh my goodness, this is so much fun!” he cried, gushing over “the greatest robots you’ve ever seen,” touting the lifetime benefits of music to the band members, and greeting practically every Amazon employee he passed with “Hi, Glenn Youngkin!”

After inspecting the facility for a few minutes, the governor left. Minutes later, he was live on Fox News bemoaning the plight of voters under Democratic rule. Mr. Youngkin said, blaming Democrats for excessive inflation, underperforming schools, and urban violence, “They’re weary of the turmoil.”

Then he returned to the Amazon lobby, which was as sunny as ever.

In Mr. Youngkin’s first year as the ambitious Republican governor of a state that Joe Biden won convincingly in 2020, he has been executing this dance. Invoking “kitchen-table issues” and “common sense,” he brags about teacher and police salaries, school building money, corporate recruiting, and $4 billion in tax savings.

To date, Youngkin’s agenda also includes prohibiting the teaching of “divisive concepts” in schools, proposing policies requiring transgender students to have formal parental permission to identify as such, aiming to withdraw from a multistate greenhouse gas reduction compact, and engaging in what some veterans of state politics describe as unusually acrimonious partisan combat with the Democratic-controlled State Senate.

Thus far, the dance has been successful. Mr. Youngkin’s current approval ratings are somewhat over 50 percent, comparable to those of former Virginia governors at this time in their terms. It will only become more difficult from here on out, especially considering Mr. Youngkin’s attempts to expand his positive image among a national Republican population that prefers overtly combative leaders.

“If Republicans somehow squander this incredibly favourable environment and the Senate remains under Democratic control, then he can say, ‘See, it doesn’t have to be this way.'” Nonetheless, if the most brazenly far-right politicians win, “common sense” may become a less attractive argument.

Mr. Youngkin, 55, has tirelessly campaigned for Republican candidates, including some of the party’s most extremist individuals, leading up to the midterm elections. On Friday, he came under criticism when the 82-year-old husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was severely wounded in what seemed to be a politically motivated attack in San Francisco. At a campaign event for a House candidate, Mr. Youngkin seemed to make light of the issue by stating, “There is no place for violence anywhere, but we’re sending her back to California to be with him.”

In September, Mr. Youngkin headlined a fund-raiser for Paul LePage, who is attempting to recapture the governorship of Maine after garnering national attention for a litany of inflammatory comments about race and other matters, and this month he rallied with Kari Lake, the Arizona gubernatorial candidate who has been a staunch denier of the 2020 election results.

Mr. Youngkin’s political strategist, Kristin Davison, said that his primary message stays consistent regardless of the audience, and that Republicans around the nation are following Mr. Youngkin’s example in addressing inflation, safety, and other common problems. She portrayed even the most divisive efforts of the governor, such as the prohibition on teaching “critical race theory” and the planned guidelines for transgender children, as “classic kitchen-table problems” involving parents and schools.

Mr. Youngkin, for his part, condemned some of Mr. LePage’s remarks, but he has justified his appearances on behalf of Mr. LePage and Ms. Lake by stating that he simply believes Republicans make better governors, despite their differences on some issues.

There are conflicting opinions about the breadth of Mr. Youngkin’s support during his 2021 election. Last year, when he entered the Virginia governor’s campaign as an obscure former private equity CEO, he concentrated closely on education, a rich area for both practical problem-solving and heated culture-warring. He set parents in school districts ablaze with arguments about merit and equality; he demanded the elimination of Covid mitigation programmes such as obligatory masking and virtual learning; and he denounced the teaching of “critical race theory” — or studies of systematic racism.

On several controversial themes, he was more subdued. To avoid frightening away independent voters, he maintained Mr. Trump at arm’s length without disavowing him and downplayed his own ardent opposition to abortion, as he said in a video made public last year.

Jonathan James
Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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