IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Youngkin’s shift to the far-right says a lot about today’s GOP

Virginians who assumed the fleece-wearing dad would be a mainstream Republican now know better. There's a lesson here for voters far from the commonwealth.


The version of Glenn Youngkin that Virginia voters saw last year would want little to do with Kari Lake. After all, the far-right Arizonan wears her radicalism on her sleeve and is basing her gubernatorial candidacy on ridiculous conspiracy theories. Last year’s version of Youngkin, meanwhile, kept GOP extremists at arm’s length while assuring voters he’s a “normal” Republican.

This year’s version of Youngkin, however, has no such concerns about MAGA politicians like Lake. Politico reported:

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin is expected to stump for Arizona governor candidate Kari Lake next month, escalating his midterm campaign efforts ahead of a prospective 2024 presidential bid. Youngkin is embarking on the Arizona trip as part of a broader nationwide campaign tour to bolster Republican candidates for governor.... But Lake will be the highest-profile, most MAGA-aligned candidate Youngkin has campaigned for to date. She has embraced Trump’s false claim the 2020 election was stolen, railed against Covid vaccine mandates and turned the media into a punching bag.

There’s no great mystery as to why Youngkin is doing this. For one thing, Virginia doesn’t allow governors to run for re-election, so he doesn’t have to worry too much about whether voters approve of his partisan efforts elsewhere. For another, Youngkin, not quite nine months into his political career, is eyeing a presidential campaign, which necessarily means hitting the road and campaigning with candidates whose support he might need later.

But what’s extraordinary about Youngkin’s travel itinerary and willingness to embrace some of his party’s more radical voices is the larger lesson: We’re learning quite a bit about what “normal” means in contemporary GOP politics.

As regular readers might recall, Youngkin faced a real challenge in the commonwealth last year. He was, after all, a conservative candidate running in a state President Joe Biden won by nearly 10 points. To get ahead, the Republican assured voters he’d focus on mainstream priorities. The subtext was hardly subtle: Virginians need not fear Youngkin or his agenda. There would be no radical shifts from the fleece-wearing dad who likes basketball.

It worked: Youngkin won by two points.

Those expecting the governor to be a normal, mainstream Republican governor in a blue-ish state — someone along the lines of Vermont’s Phil Scott, Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker, or Maryland’s Larry Hogan — quickly learned otherwise.

Youngkin picked unnecessary fights with school boards. He pulled Virginia out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, to the benefit of no one — except polluters — while also trying to make Donald Trump’s favorite coal industry lobbyist the steward of Virginia’s natural resources.

His "snitch line" became a fiasco. His choice for state elections commissioner was highly controversial, and his choice for Virginia health commissioner was vastly worse. One of the governor’s appointees to the state’s Board of Historic Resources had to resign after insisting that slavery was not the main cause of the Civil War.

On social issues, Youngkin has not only expressed an interest in a new abortion ban in Virginia, he’s also needlessly and sharply restricted the rights of transgender students in public schools.

Now, he’s hitting the road, throwing his backing behind election deniers.

Virginians who assumed the fleece-wearing dad who likes basketball would prioritize mainstream governance should now know better, but there’s a lesson here that applies far outside the commonwealth.

Indeed, with seven weeks remaining before the midterm elections, much of the American electorate is hearing related pitches from GOP candidates who are equally eager to tell voters they have nothing to fear from a shift to the far-right.

Youngkin offers a case study in just how unreliable those assurances can be.

Plenty of observers have taken note. The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson argued in a column earlier this year that the slate of GOP officeholders in Virginia “might look like something new — fresh-faced and laudably diverse — but so far, at least, they act more like members in good standing within the Cult of Trump. Someday, I hope, the Republican Party will escape the grip of a certain angry pensioner in Florida. Until then, don’t be fooled — and don’t give them your votes.”