When you set out to determine what Donald Trump is up to, you need to keep one fact above all else in your mind: Trump is a follower, not a leader. That is the tragedy of the GOP putting him out in front, it’s the blind leading the blind. The man stands for nothing beyond superficiality and the measurement of same via ratings, tweets and the like.
Trump lapped up the adulation he got in Iowa and make no mistake, he has wayyyy too many followers for people to feel comfortable that he’s out of the game. But on the other hand, the Republican running for governor in Virginia doesn’t want anything to do with him and that’s significant as well.
Youngkin may be worried that Trump will do for him what he did for the two senate candidates in Georgia last year. Good point. Associated Press:
“Is Trump going to come to Virginia? Yes. But it will be after the election for a victory rally,” said conservative talk show host John Fredericks, who served as Trump’s campaign chairman in the state and also organized Wednesday’s event. Youngkin’s campaign confirmed Friday it does not have any plans for surrogates to join him before Election Day.
The dynamic reflects the complex balancing act between Trump and Youngkin and could emerge as a model for other Republicans who face competitive campaigns in 2022.
Trump is the most popular figure in GOP politics and is eager to remain engaged. Youngkin needs Trump’s supporters to come out and cannot risk giving Trump a reason to turn on him in the race’s final weeks. But Youngkin must avoid being tied too closely to someone who is unpopular in crucial swaths of the state, particularly the suburbs that surround Washington, D.C., and Richmond.
Youngkin steered clear of the Wednesday event that also featured longtime Trump strategist Steve Bannon. He soon could find himself charged with contempt for refusing to cooperate with a U.S. House committee investigating the Capitol riot. The Republican rally drew outrage after attendees recited the Pledge of Allegiance to a flag that the emcee said had been flown at the Jan. 6 insurrection. Youngkin later criticized the use of that flag.
Apparently Youngkin is trying to play the safe Republican daddy and appeal to “normal” Republicans, avoiding Trump and his pardonees like the plague. This is an interesting dynamic to watch.
If Youngkin wins, Trump is sure to try to take credit, citing his participation in Wednesday’s rally, his May endorsement and any future efforts to get out the vote. If Youngkin loses, Trump can blame him for not aligning himself more closely with the former president.
“The only guys that win are the guys that embrace the MAGA movement,” Trump said in an interview with Fredericks. “When they try and go down a railroad track, you know, ‘Hey, oh yeah, sure, I love it, love it. Oh yeah, I love Trump, love Trump, OK, let’s go, next subject.’ When they do that, they never win. They never win. They have to embrace it.”
Youngkin’s campaign hasn’t featured many big name surrogates at his events, but McAuliffe has summoned Democratic star power. Biden has appeared with McAuliffe and the ex-governor’s campaign told The Associated Press that the president will return before the vote. First lady Jill Biden joined McAuliffe at a rally Friday and former President Barack Obama will campaign with him this coming week.
Youngkin is going out of his way to avoid commenting on the Big Lie. He’s trying to run as a Charlie Baker kind of conservative, be a Republican governor in a state that has gotten progressively blue in previous years. Youngkin believes the MAGAs will vote for him and that he’ll also lure in the suburbanites who have defected to the Democrats. We’ll see.