But it’s risky to say such things while running for office as a post-Trump Republican, knowing that a meaningful share of your base is pro-insurrection. To beat Terry McAuliffe in Virginia next month, Glenn Youngkin needs every righty vote that’s available to him. Which explains why he seemed prepared not to comment on this at all until Democrats spent a full day squeezing him.
A rally was held in Virginia last night on Youngkin’s behalf, organized by radio host John Fredericks and featuring MAGA all-star Steve Bannon. The surprise guest: Donald Trump, who called in and told the crowd that “Glenn Youngkin is a great gentleman” before doing his usual song and dance about how he actually won the 2020 election. Which wasn’t great for Youngkin. If you read this post, you know that McAuliffe’s entire strategy as Biden flounders is to try to nationalize the race by making it a referendum on Trump. Democrats are disappointed by Biden and indifferent to McAuliffe but they might just get off their asses to cast a vote against the MAGA Emperor. Their disdain for Trump handed Biden a 10-point win in Virginia last fall.
Youngkin’s task as a post-Trump Republican is to somehow stay upright on the political highwire he’s walking. Trump voters want him to be Trumpy; anti-Trump suburban voters want him to be more of a traditional Republican. If he can forge those two groups into a coalition, he can win. But it’s hard, knowing that he risks pissing off swing voters if he aligns too closely with the party’s Trumpier elements and risks pissing off Trump fans if he doesn’t align closely enough.
Youngkin didn’t attend last night’s rally, which wasn’t a coincidence. But he did call into Fredericks’ show this week to thank him for organizing it and allegedly thanked him “profusely” in private. Reportedly he also gave Fredericks campaign signs to hand out. That’s the Youngkin campaign in a nutshell, hugging MAGA one moment and then pulling back the next by not showing up to the event they’ve organized for him. Highwires are tricky.
I’m guessing he stayed away because he feared something like this might happen:
At the rally last night for GOP VA Gov candidate Glenn Youngkin, they said the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’ to a flag that was carried during the insurrection on Jan 6, as if it was sacred or something. pic.twitter.com/NGEaFFAvdF
— Ron Filipkowski (@RonFilipkowski) October 14, 2021
“This is not who we are as Virginians,” a gleeful McAuliffe tweeted afterwards. “Tonight’s Donald Trump rally for Glenn Youngkin celebrating the insurrection against our country was unconscionable. Pledging allegiance to a flag that was at the deadly riot.” Sacralizing an artifact of the rally that preceded the riot is indeed a creepy ritual, the nationalist answer to genuflecting before a religious relic. McAuliffe has done everything he can to treat Youngkin as a stand-in for Trump and the rally organizers served up a new talking point for the Democrat on a silver platter.
Youngkin’s campaign was quiet after the video began circulating. Their strategy, rationally if cynically, is to risk alienating MAGA voters only to the extent Democrats force them to. Why leap to say that the January 6 flag pledge was “weird and wrong” if you don’t absolutely have to?
So Dems set about making sure he absolutely had to. McAuliffe’s tweet was the first blow. Then reporters started pressing Youngkin about Trump’s warm words at the rally, knowing how that would complicate his outreach to swing voters. Youngkin tried to stay on the highwire by offering non-answers:
Republican Glenn Youngkin wouldn’t say Thursday whether he wants former President Donald Trump to campaign for him in the final weeks of Virginia’s high-stakes gubernatorial election and distanced himself from a controversial right-wing rally supporting his candidacy the night before.
“The person that’s going to be campaigning here for the next two-and-half weeks is Glenn Youngkin. I am on the ballot,” he told reporters, referring to himself in the third-person after a campaign event in a public park…
Youngkin steered clear of the Bannon rally, though one of the speakers was controversial state Sen. Amanda Chase, a prominent promoter of election fraud conspiracy theories who supports and lost in the Republican primary.
“The only chief surrogate for Glenn Youngkin is Glenn Youngkin,” he said of himself when asked about Chase’s presence at the event.
Youngkin has campaigned alongside Chase, a surprise to some observers given her reputation. She was at last night’s rally too, tossing off lines like this:
— Laura Vozzella (@LVozzella) October 14, 2021
Go figure that he didn’t want to be there. The fact that he’s appearing with Chase at all at this stage of the election suggests that he thinks MAGA fans are still lukewarm about him. He needs more conspiracy-theory “cred,” perhaps, which may explain why he was hesitant to say anything negative about the January 6 flag at first.
Reporters kept after him about it, though, and finally forced him to speak up:
Here’s the video. @GlennYoungkin “If that is the case, then we shouldn’t pledge allegiance to that flag…. There is no place for violence, none, none, in America today.” @wusa9 @CBSNews @cnn @TerryMcAuliffe pic.twitter.com/7jHgX8XvTT
— Bruce Leshan (@BruceLeshan) October 14, 2021
That was Youngkin realizing he was going to be hounded about this until he said something at least mildly critical about last night’s ritual. Evidently his team concluded that his comments weren’t forceful enough to put an end to the story so they issued this statement this afternoon, denouncing the pledge but also pointing to the radical elements in McAuliffe’s base:
New Youngkin statement “It is weird and wrong to pledge allegiance to a flag connected to January 6. As I have said many times before, the violence that occurred on January 6 was sickening and wrong.” pic.twitter.com/Bpwrr7mUjE
— Jon Ward (@jonward11) October 14, 2021
He and McAuliffe are wagering. McAuliffe’s wager is that Youngkin’s attempt to have it both ways will backfire. Youngkin wanted a MAGA rally with Steve Bannon and now he wants to impress swing voters by denouncing the predictable MAGA-style stunts that happened there. McAuliffe’s betting that it’ll sour both groups on him, with Trump fans deciding he’s a wimp who doesn’t “fight” and suburbanites deciding he’s a crank posing as a normie. Youngkin, however, is betting that both sides will see what they want to see. Trumpers will hear about the pledge stunt and be pleased that Youngkin is associated with it, swing voters will hear the denunciation and be happy that he’s not one of those Republicans. We’ll find out in three weeks who won the wager.
I’ll leave you with this, new from Fox:
NEW Fox News #VAGOV poll: McAuliffe 51, Youngkin 46.
McAuliffe: 52/44 fav/unfav
Biden 50/48 fav/unfav
Youngkin 48/45 fav/unfav
Northam 47/45 fav/unfav
Trump 44/53 fav/unfavhttps://t.co/D3OiXkEZKe
— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) October 14, 2021