Glenn Youngkin Minding Everyone’s Business But Virginia’s

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin works in the old Governor's office at the Capitol Wednesday March 2, 2022, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

By Carolyn Fiddler
April 5, 2023

Glenn Youngkin won election two years ago as a purported moderate focused on making Virginia a better place to live and work. His recent actions and travel schedule indicate that his focus is actually everywhere but the Old Dominion.

When Donald Trump’s indictment was announced last week, many MAGA conservatives immediately jumped to publicly defend the former president and to cast aspersions on the criminal justice system that’s working to hold him accountable. No one expected Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin – a purported “moderate” who was careful to keep Trump away from the commonwealth during his 2021 campaign – to join this anti-law and order fray, but join he did.

Before anyone outside those directly involved in the criminal case against Trump had actually seen the sealed indictment, Youngkin joined Ted Cruz, Marjorie Taylor Green, and other MAGA luminaries in taking his Trump support to social media.

In a tweet from his personal account (@GlennYoungkin) shortly after the indictment news broke, the governor of Virginia leveled a direct attack against Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and the criminal justice system.

“It is beyond belief that District Attorney Alvin Bragg has indicted a former President and current presidential candidate for pure political gain. Arresting a presidential candidate on a manufactured basis should not happen in America,” Youngkin tweeted. “The left’s continued attempts to weaponize our judicial system erode people’s faith in the American justice system and it needs to stop,” he added in a subsequent tweet.

Six days after Youngkin leapt to Trump’s defense, the indictment was unsealed when the former president was arrested and arraigned. It revealed that a New York City grand jury, which had been investigating Trump’s hush-money payments to an adult film star and a former Playboy model, charged Trump with 34 separate felony counts of falsifying business records in the course of making those payments.

Trump, who is the first current or former U.S. president to face criminal charges, pled not guilty in his Tuesday arraignment. Youngkin has offered no further comment on Trump’s situation or the criminal justice system since the indictment was unsealed.

Youngkin’s MAGA-esque tweet may have been sent from somewhere in Virginia, but the governor has spent a notable amount of his nascent term making trips outside of the commonwealth for reasons that have nothing to do with making the state he was elected to run a better place to live and work.

Just days after the end of the legislative session and with hundreds of bills unsigned and an unfinished state budget, Youngkin traveled to New York to meet with major GOP donors – a move that likely indicates his intent to run for higher office, since he’s constitutionally prohibited from running for reelection in Virginia.

Later this month, Youngkin will make another personal political trip to meet with “megadonors” – this time in Texas, where he’ll be feted by Omni Hotels owner and GOP supporter Robert Rowling.

Youngkin did remain in Richmond for the duration of the 46-day General Assembly session, a marked change of pace after flying all across the country last fall to campaign for GOP gubernatorial candidates.

Virginia’s governor made political trips to 15 different states to support his fellow Republicans, but just five of the candidates he stumped for won, and four of those were in states that were not considered competitive or where Republicans consistently polled well ahead. Several of the candidates Youngkin traveled to support embraced Trump’s false claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. One has a long and ugly history of racist statements.

Even Youngkin’s fellow Virginia Republicans have groused about Youngkin’s overtly political tour schedule. Last August–well before the governor’s travel schedule had kicked into high gear–state Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment complained that Youngkin’s attention was not centered on the state he was elected to run

“I am hopeful he will intensify his focus on the commonwealth’s issues,” Norment told reporters at a state budget event.

After breaking with a 30-year gubernatorial tradition by not leading any foreign or domestic trade missions in his first year on the job, Youngkin is finally traveling to Asia later this month to promote the state. His five-day trip – which kicks off just a few days after his visit to Texas to meet with national GOP megadonors – will include stops in Japan and South Korea. 

It also includes a visit to Taiwan, injecting a politically charged meeting into his trade tour, despite the fact that Taiwan is not among Virginia’s top 10 trading partners for either imports or exports, according to the Port of Virginia. Visiting Taiwan and meeting with Taiwanese government officials has become a popular form of political signaling for those wishing to telegraph their opposition to the Chinese Communist Party, as China considers such outreach to Taiwan a provocation.

Despite the fact that China is one of Virginia’s biggest trading partners (Japan is at the bottom end of the top 10, and South Korea ranks even lower), Youngkin has no plans to include it in his Asia trip. Before he became governor, Youngkin engaged in extensive business dealings with China.

Youngkin’s trip to Taiwan signals a continuation of a “tough on China” stance he began aggressively pushing in January, when he rejected plans for a Ford Motor Co. battery plant to be built in southside Virginia, which would have brought some 2,500 new jobs to the economically struggling region. Youngkin claims he halted the plant over “concerns about Chinese influence.” The plant and its thousands of well-paying jobs are going to Michigan instead

“Gov. Youngkin is running for president – and to win over MAGA Republicans, he’s talking tough on China,” Virginia Democratic House Leader Don Scott wrote in a column last month. “The governor is even willing to leave entire Virginia communities behind.”

  • Carolyn Fiddler

    Carolyn Fiddler is Dogwood's chief political correspondent. She is also the nation’s foremost expert in state politics with almost two decades of experience in statehouse machinations, and her comic book collection is probably bigger than yours.

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