Youngkin is Trying to Have His 2023 Cake and Eat 2024 Too

FILE - Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks during a news conference about U.S.-Japan cooperation on economic issues, April 27, 2023, in Tokyo. Joined by Jewish faith and community leaders, Youngkin hosted an event Monday, May 8, to ceremonially sign a bill supporters say will help Virginia better track and combat growing instances of antisemitism. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File)

By Carolyn Fiddler

May 24, 2023

Just a couple of weeks ago, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin steered the spotlight away from himself and towards his party’s work to keep its majority in the House of Delegates and flip the state Senate to GOP control. Now Youngkin seems to want that attention back.

Most Republicans in Virginia have just two goals in 2023: keep the party’s majority in the state House and flip the state Senate from Democratic to Republican control. Gov. Glenn Youngkin seems to have a third agenda item all his own.

As the highest-ranking GOP elected official in the commonwealth, Youngkin is Republicans’ standard-bearer here. Despite this status, Youngkin spent much of the past year traveling and openly courting out-of-state GOP activists and donors for a potential 2024 presidential campaign. During his first year in office, Virginia’s governor made political trips to 15 different states to support his fellow Republicans ahead of the 2022 elections. 

Youngkin did remain in Richmond during the 46-day General Assembly session this year, but just days after it adjourned – and with hundreds of bills sitting unsigned on his desk and an unfinished state budget – Youngkin traveled to New York to meet with major GOP donors. In April, Youngkin reportedly made another personal political trip to meet with Republican “megadonors,” this time in Texas.

Even Youngkin’s fellow Virginia Republicans have groused about Youngkin’s overtly political travel schedule. state Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment complained last year 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.

Virginia Republicans working to win control of the legislature got a bit of good news at the beginning of month when Youngkin declared from a stage in California that he would not be running for president and would instead focus on electing more members of his own party to the state House and Senate.

“I’m going to be working in Virginia this year,” Youngkin said. “Our House and Senate are up for full reelection this year. We have a House that’s controlled by Republicans and a Senate that’s controlled by Democrats. I want to hold our House, and I’d like to flip our Senate.”

But just a few weeks later, Youngkin is changing his tune yet again. A few days ago, his political action committee released a campaign-style video. The one-minute video shows clips from his speech at the Reagan library in California, in which he tells his rapt audience that it’s “time to usher in a new era of American values,” and shows classic campaign-style stock images like a rising sun and military aircraft.

However, one of those stock images is from even further away than the west coast; a scene that could have shown an American military plane instead featured a Eurofighter Typhoon from the Italian Air Force. Youngkin’s video clearly shows the symbol of the Italian Air Force, and the word “Typhoon” appears on the jet’s tail.

Youngkin’s Spirit of Virginia super PAC has since released a different version of the video that replaces the Italian footage with a quick shot of American F-16 fighter jets.

Despite the fact that Youngkin doesn’t utter the word “Virginia” even once over the course of the minute-long video, his aides insist that it’s just a recap of his recent speech and is “not intended to hint at his future ambitions.” 

His aides have also insisted that Youngkin has merely ruled out a presidential run “this year,” even though any serious presidential campaign would need to be launched long before January 2024; GOP nomination contests begin on Feb. 5, 2024, and Republicans Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, Asa Hutchinson, and Donald Trump have all already formally launched their presidential bids or have indicated their intent to do so in the near future. Adding even more ambiguity to his plans for himself and the state he was elected to govern, “top Republican sources” claimed this week that Youngkin is now “reconsidering” a run for the GOP presidential nomination.

Another non-presidential deadline looms over Youngkin much sooner than 2024, however; he has yet to negotiate a successful budget compromise between Republican and Democratic members of Virginia’s General Assembly, despite the fact that the legislative session ended almost three months ago. 

  • 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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