The Republican first-time governor is best known for his fascism lite persona in which he flirts with right-wing bigotry and illiberalism using a veneer of compassion. My MSNBC colleague Zeeshan Aleem, for instance, once wrote about Youngkin’s on-again, off-again relationship with Donald Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud.
Thursday was a prime example of Youngkin’s political balancing act as he joined CNN for a town hall focused on public education. The issue of school curricula — and which topics ought to be prohibited from classrooms — was central to Youngkin’s successful gubernatorial campaign back in 2021. He sailed on a river of white tears to the governor’s mansion and was back to paddling during Thursday’s town hall, denouncing inclusive learning plans under the misnomer of “critical race theory,” claiming students are taught they’re “inherently” biased, and proposing ways to further marginalize LGBTQ students.
Watching the event gave viewers a look at Youngkin trying to calibrate in real time: Yes, he espouses a lot of discriminatory views, but he’s slightly more self-aware than many of his fellow Republicans in that he knows these views are likely to be seen as cruel. So he tries to dance around them, or dress them up.
This was clearest when a Virginia high school student who identifies as a transgender man asked whether Youngkin thinks the student should be forced to change in the girls’ locker room.
“Do you really think that the girls in my high school would feel comfortable sharing a restroom with me?” the student asked.
As you’ll see in the clip below, Youngkin talks in circles and does a great deal of throat-clearing before advocating for separate, “gender-neutral” bathrooms.
So ... discrimination, but make it smiley.
And then Youngkin pivoted to speaking about trans athletes and fairness, which was clearly a point he wished to make ... but it didn’t at all relate to the question asked.
Virginia doesn’t allow governors to serve consecutive terms, meaning Youngkin will be in need of a new job before too long. That has fed speculation he could enter the 2024 presidential race.
If so, he could become an option for conservatives who like their bigotry with a few niceties sprinkled on top.