It took until Monday night, more than 48 hours after the GOP’s jerry-built, 39-site, mostly drive-up Virginia “convention” ended, but former Carlyle CEO Glenn Youngkin, a Donald Trump loyalist, will be the state’s GOP nominee for governor. The only candidate to acknowledge that Joe Biden won the presidency, former House speaker Kirk Cox, was the first of the four major candidates to be eliminated as the ranked-choice votes were hand-tallied—hand-tallied because some candidates didn’t trust the vote-counting software the party proposed using.
Make no mistake: Cox supported Trump too, even though the disgraced former president lost Virginia by 10 points. But the formerly powerful GOP leader paid for merely acknowledging the reality that Trump lost. It took five rounds of hand-counting to choose Youngkin.
The chaotic nominating process by these post-Trump but still Trumpy Republicans, all of whom styled themselves as “election integrity” fanatics, involved fewer than 29,000 of the more than 54,000 delegates who had registered. Compare that to the 370,000 or so who participated in the 2017 GOP primary, not to mention the 2 million Virginians who voted for Trump last November. The party that once, in Grover Norquist’s words, aimed to shrink government to the size where “we can drown it in the bathtub,” seems to have done something comparable to its own electorate in Virginia. I guess this is election integrity?
“The Republican Party is the party of subtraction not addition now,” former GOP congressman Denver Riggleman told me Tuesday afternoon.
Even the GOP’s so-called “disassembled convention” was full of ballot-security intrigue. According to The Washington Post, Youngkin hired two beefy guys from a Trump-connected firm, Colorado Security, to watch over the Richmond Marriott ballroom where the votes were stored Sunday night. (The men were eventually led away by hotel security.) Some Virginia Republicans believed the whole mess was designed to defeat gun-toting self-styled “Trump in heels” Amanda Chase, and that included Chase herself. Whatever the motive, the plan succeeded. Another comparative outsider, entrepreneur Pete Snyder, had been considered the front-runner (and the architect of the anti-Chase plan); he came in second. Chase has threatened to run as an independent in November. We’ll see.
Youngkin’s main issue during the primary campaign was establishing an “election integrity task force.” He lent his campaign more than $5 million, and welcomed the support of Senator Ted Cruz as well as the Confederate-friendly, ultra-right former Minnesotan state senator Corey Stewart, who lost to Senator Tim Kaine in 2018. Youngkin’s recent campaign swing with Cruz led to this memorable story, shared by the oddball Texas senator, about floating on a river in inner tubes, and their bathroom habits: “We were doing an event this morning, someone called out, ‘You get out of the river to piss?’ I said, what idiot does that? I guarantee you anyone who does that is a Democrat.” At least they didn’t go to Cancún. But I digress.
On top of peddling election fraud lies, Youngkin campaigned on Democrats’ wanting to cancel Dr. Seuss and defund the police. Before this, he might have been most familiar, if at all, as head of the Carlyle Group when it backed music executives in a deal that took away Taylor Swift’s rights to her songs (which she’s won back by re-recording them). I know this because the Democratic Governors’ Association’s Twitter feed was remarkably (and appropriately) salty about it.
Taylor Swift is re-recording her early albums because of a malicious deal financed by #VAGov candidate Glenn Youngkin’s Carlyle group.
—Democratic Governors (@DemGovs) February 11, 2021
Youngkin has no prior political experience.
Democrats wasted no time going after Youngkin. Former governor Terry McAuliffe, the front-runner in this race, tweeted:
Let me introduce you to Glenn Youngkin: Glenn’s a Ted Cruz and Corey Stewart-endorsed, self-funding, Big Lie believing Trump loyalist who’ll stop at nothing to advance the GOP’s extreme agenda.
What he’s definitely not? The next Governor of Virginia. I’ll make sure of that.
—Terry McAuliffe (@TerryMcAuliffe) May 11, 2021
Democratic contender Jennifer Carroll Foy’s campaign took the opportunity to tweak not just Youngkin but McAuliffe too. “The GOP would love nothing more than Terry McAuliffe as the nominee, someone they consider a well-defined candidate who won’t animate the base.”
Since Trump won the White House, Virginia Democrats have been on a roll, electing Democrats to the top three statewide offices in 2017, then taking the House of Delegates and Senate in 2019. On a Tuesday afternoon media conference call hosted by the Virginia Democratic Party, when reporters expressed skepticism that the party could prevail statewide in a post-Trump world, party chair Susan Swecker retorted, “Trump is still on the ballot.”
And Donald Trump made sure of that, issuing a statement around the same time that Youngkin has “my Complete and Total Endorsement,” against McAuliffe, who he says is the candidate of “the Clintons and the Communist Chinese.”
McAuliffe, of course, isn’t yet Youngkin’s opponent. Democrats hold their convention on June 8, the old-fashioned way—voters go out and vote. No matter who wins, Youngkin could be a threat, if only because of his ability to fund his own campaign, even against the man known as a Democratic fundraiser extraordinaire. This will be a campaign about the future of Virginia, but also about how Virginians reckon with the Trump past.