Republicans just nominated a candidate who has repeated voter fraud claims to be their gubernatorial nominee in Virginia, the most important election of 2021.
Former Carlyle Group CEO Glenn Youngkin won the nomination Monday night, setting him up to compete in a closely watched bid for governor.
The self-funding private equity financier hails firmly from the business wing of the GOP. But he made sure to echo doubts about the 2020 election and push questions about voter fraud in his bid to win his party’s nomination, while calling for new voting restrictions that there’s no evidence are necessary.
Youngkin has repeatedly refused to say that Biden was the legitimate winner of the 2020 election.
“Our president is Joe Biden because he was inaugurated as such,” he told NPR last month when pressed on whether he personally thought there was widespread voting fraud in 2020. “And so what we have to do is look forward at what we have to fix.”
And his first major policy proposal as a candidate was “Election Integrity Task Force.”
Youngkin wants new voting rules including photo identification for all votes, a requirement of two witness signatures for any mail ballots, more regular voter roll purges to eliminate people who are no longer eligible Virginia voters, and automatic audits of voting machines within a month of elections—moves that seek to address the threat of widespread voting fraud.
“Both parties have long raised concerns, and we must restore Americans’ faith in the integrity of our elections,” he said in a statement announcing the task force in March. “Virginians should not worry that votes aren’t counted properly or that improper voting occurred.”
But that’s a solution in search of a problem. The reason so many Republicans are convinced there are widespread election integrity problems is because former President Trump has repeatedly lied to them.
Youngkin fully embraced Trump in the campaign, running ads showing Trump praising him during a business event.
Trump was quick to endorse Youngkin.
“Glenn is pro-Business, pro-Second Amendment, pro-Veterans, pro-America, he knows how to make Virginia’s economy rip-roaring, and he has my Complete and Total Endorsement,” Trump said in a Tuesday morning statement.
This may just be the cost of doing business in the modern GOP. Roughly three quarters of Trump’s voters believing his lie that voting fraud was widespread in the 2020 election, it’s hard for any Republican to win a primary while telling the truth that Trump lost fair and square.
Strikingly, Youngkin was far from the most vocal in pushing GOP voter fraud claims in the GOP nominating contest. Virginia state Sen. Amanda Chase, who styled herself as “Trump in heels,” and businessman Pete Snyder went even further in pushing the baseless claims that the 2020 election was rigged against them. Notably, the only Republican in the race who clearly stated that Biden fairly won the 2020 election was former Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox, the early establishment favorite. He finished a distant fourth in the contest.
Youngkin has been careful not to lean too overtly into the wild conspiracies that Trump has pushed about 2020, seeking to strike a careful political balance of pleasing the hardline GOP base whose support he needed for the nomination while trying to avoid saying anything that could hurt him with suburban swing voters around Richmond and in Northern Virginia.
Republicans are skeptical that Youngkin’s position will hurt him with those voters.
“How is it we don’t have to show our ID at the polls? It’s not racist, it’s not extreme. I’m not sure the suburban voter that voted against us is going to disagree with us there,” former Virginia Republican Party Chairman John Whitbeck told VICE News Tuesday morning. “I just don’t think Virginians are going to object to Glenn Youngkin saying you should have to show your ID at the polls.”
Virginia’s gubernatorial election has long been viewed as a canary in the coalmine for the midterms. The GOP’s win in 2009 and close call with a flawed candidate in 2013 presaged big red wave elections, while Democrats’ blowout 2017 win hinted at a strong 2018 midterm for the party, especially in suburban territory.
Virginia has trended Democratic in the past decade, however—Biden won it by 10, roughly double the margins of victory Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama managed in the state. If Youngkin can win or keep the race close, it will suggest that Republicans may be well-positioned for a big midterm election and may have revived some in the suburbs that had raced left in the Trump era.
There are already signs that Youngkin will seek to pivot to the center and won’t tout Trump as much in the general election. After he won the GOP nomination, Youngkin’s campaign quickly changed the settings of the ad featuring Trump’s praise from public to unlisted on YouTube, making it harder for the public to find.
Democrats would undoubtedly have tried to tie the GOP to Trump in a state that he lost, no matter who the Republicans nominated.
“Democrats’ playbook is going to be call Glenn Youngkin Donald Trump, and it doesn’t matter what position he took on election integrity, schools, COVID or anything, they’re going to call him a far-right Donald Trump clone,” Whitbeck said.
And it’s not clear Youngkin’s positions will hurt him politically—polls show that majorities of Americans support voter ID.
But Youngkin’s refusal to reject Trump’s lies about the 2020 election have given Democrats ammunition. And his nomination lets him push on with efforts to restrict voting in the name of voting integrity, even further undermining voters’ trust in the democratic process.