Glenn Youngkin and the Rapid Fade of the Virginia Old Guard
WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 15: Glenn Youngkin, President and Chief Operating Officer of the Carlyle Group, attends a panel discussion during the US Chamber of Commerce’s Infrastructure Week program on May 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. The panel, titled “Collaboration, Compromise, Consensus: Building a Blueprint for National Infrastructure Investments” highlighted national and local plans that emphasized public-private partnerships. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
Virginia politics, particularly conservative Virginia politics, used to be a waiting game.
Though people jumped the line on occasion, of course, the Commonwealth was once ruled by the iron rule of the Byrd machine. Half a century ago, “the organization,” as it was called, was working to pay your dues. The delegates became state senators. State senators became attorneys general. AGs became lieutenant governors so often and so on.
The election of Republican governor Linwood Holton ended the old-school South Democratic reign in 1969, but a holistic, incremental ethos seemed to permeate state politics well into the 1990s and 2000s, even with the rise of fast-growing Northern Virginia. Douglas Wilder walked from the Senate to the LG’s office in the governor’s mansion, the first black governor in the nation’s history, in the capital of the former Confederation, nothing less than a quixotic, stillborn offer for the presidency and an encore as mayor of Richmond to become a kind of Jerry Brown character in the original California.
Former delegate, congressman and governor George Allen, while not a native of Virginia (born in Richard Nixon’s Whittier, California), has teamed up with former Secretary of the Navy, John Warner – the state that has so many military facilities and so much Military service – in the Senate when I first moved there in 2003, despite my family’s ancestral home. Warner would serve 30 years, and Allen was an inheritance from George W. Bush that was evident at the time. It was noticeable that the Democrats tried to stick to the old methods.
They were “Virginia Democrats,” as partisans in the state liked to emphasize, well into Barack Obama’s years in the White House.
Mark Warner (unrelated to John) anchored his 2001 triumph in gubernatorial politics, yes, in Northern Virginia, but with a fulcrum in the sparsely populated but vast southwest of the state that would become Donald Trump’s heartland. His successor, future Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine, married into the Virginia Royalty (the daughter of former Governor Holton, Anne) before becoming a councilor, Richmond mayor, vice governor, and then governor, but not until at a critical juncture Took an advertisement in the 2005 election campaign assuring voters that he would not hesitate to enforce the death penalty simply because he was a Roman Catholic. The Commonwealth was killing convicted murderers in a clip near Texas at the time and did so with real pride in law and order. They closed the practice completely between the performances of Cicada Brood X.
To believe Guy Friddell’s “The Virginia Way,” the old Richmonders called their metropolis “the holy city,” a nod to the seven geographical hills that are reminiscent of Rome and are lined with church spiers, many of which have now disappeared. Charleston, South Carolina also claims the widespread nickname, while contemporary Richmonders disapprove of it unless one wishes to signal membership in or affinity with the old guard. You are much more likely to see the government-sanctioned “RVA” bumper sticker, a product of a corporate campaign, Refinement Culture.
Virginia has seen change before, and no doubt generations before have wept in a place like the south that the place really does go to hell this time, quite often for dubious reasons. Four hundred and fourteen years since Jamestown was founded, four hundred and two years since the first known appearance of slaves in chains, two hundred and forty years since the Commonwealth-led military secured the final humiliation of the Crown at Yorktown, one hundred and forty-fifty-six sources since their own humiliation at Appomattox, a half In the 20th century since the desegregation and reorientation of the related parties, it’s hard to shake the impression that this time around, the place has really changed again.
Cue the coronation of Glenn Youngkin, former Co-CEO of the Carlyle Group, as the next Republican candidate for governor, official late Monday night. Youngkin, a newcomer to politics, will no doubt invite comparisons with Warner, who has also won nationwide as a harmless, wealthy businessman without having previously served in office. Like Warner, Youngkin is now leading the Underdog Party, with Virginia Republicans learning to live life with the shoe on the other foot.
Mark Warner had narrowed John Warner in a 1996 Senate race and earned him a kind of Lincoln-Douglas cache that so seldom presented itself as a loser. Mitt Romney, a more contemporary example, had also benefited from scaring Ted Kennedy in 1994 in 2002. Youngkin, on the other hand, is completely green. He’ll almost certainly face former Governor Terry McAuliffe, the scandal-ridden but dominant Democratic party unsure of who else to nominate, led by a man who wanted to be president, or at least Joe Biden’s cabinet, and now it’s not sure what else to do.
McAuliffe quickly clung to the narrative that Youngkin had essentially bought his shot at the price, not to mention linking the new candidate to a radical out-group like Republicans did with Democrats in the state a generation ago.
“Now Glenn Youngkin has paid enough to earn the Republican governor nomination to keep Donald Trump’s dangerous playbook here in Virginia,” the former governor said in a statement. McAuliffe’s messages could serve the dual purpose of undermining Republican enthusiasm at a time of growing party’s hostility towards big business (and mutual sentiment). The divide was exposed last month through anti-corporate comments from Republican grandees, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, and right-wing attorney general Clarence Thomas. The anti-Trump licks his chops Bulwark ironic about the appointment of a private equity manager from a company with previous ties to the Bin Laden family: “After all, the GOP has ostracized the globalist elite.”
Youngkin will no doubt try to nationalistically express his business experience. During the primaries, he discovered that then President Donald Trump had thanked him by name for his China policy. Indeed, the new candidate received the former president’s approval, which he could have used during the convention but which he is likely to ignore when it generally suits him, as he did in his first remarks on Tuesday. “Glenn runs against Bill Clinton’s longtime enabler Terry McAuliffe,” said Trump. “Terry McAuliffe was the Clintons’ bagman in several ways, from the cover-ups to the get-rich-quick plans, and his dealings with Communist China look suspicious.”
The affirmation is a continuation of Trump’s reverence for corporate figures, from his first Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (ExxonMobil) to first economic advisor Gary Cohn (Goldman Sachs) – who would probably have been embarrassed to shake hands in a previous life and the odds stand it’s good that it’s you again. (Cohn even recently ditched the previous administration’s line of a low corporate tax rate, a signature performance). In short, Youngkin’s family tree and wealth are a double-edged sword that likely warrants high standing for his November accomplishment, but is certainly also a bullet point for Democrats in an increasingly oligarchic economy. Not that McAuliffe is Huey Long.
“My guess was that Youngkin would win,” said Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia, the dean of the Commonwealth’s political scene. “It even flooded the others [his principal rival, Pete] Snyder, with pretty lavish campaign spending of all kinds. … Republican sources told me Youngkin will be spending at least $ 30 million of his own money, and I had one who told me that Youngkin pledged $ 75 million. It is possible that McAuliffe will be issued. “
The Democrat who got Senator Allen out, Jim Webb, was once the party’s State of the Union interrogator and found himself the keynote speaker at an event nine years later The American Conservative. The architect of Webb’s only political victory was David “Mudcat” Saunders, a former Appalachian aide to Warner. He was profiled quite approvingly in the Weekly standard in 2005 by Matt Labash, an old friend of Tucker Carlson. It’s easy to believe that what happened in the old Dominion was a done deal. However, the hegemony in Northern Virginia, with half the state’s population and more money, was made clear by the Obama presidency, to which Virginia cast its votes.
And yet a certain culture persisted. In 2009, Republican Bob McDonnell, a 14-year-old delegate and then Attorney General, Del. Creigh Deeds walled by seventeen points to become governor. Even Deeds’ surprise nomination had been old-school endorsement when a rather infamous good old boy defeated Northern Virgins Terry McAuliffe, former chairman of the National Democratic Convention in Buffalon, and Brian Moran of the local Northeast Transplant Moran Dynasty. In the McDonnell administration, statues of Confederate luminaries Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson continued to line Monument Avenue in Richmond with what appeared to be a bipartisan shrug.
It wasn’t until Obama’s second win in Virginia – GOP candidate Mitt Romney announced his selection of Paul Ryan on a battleship in Norfolk in 2012 – things really started to change. What went down was a combination: a collapsed national political style ie the rules of the street, an increasingly national Democratic party in Virginia, and a distinct right-wing drift by Republicans, but an aimless one.
In 2013, then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a man whose imperial ambition those who know him swear by, jumped the line. His tenure as an ideologist in the AG’s office ranged from covering the breastplate of Virtus, the Hellenized warrior on the state seal, to suing the University of Virginia over climate change studies. His work as Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the Commonwealth was defined by gestures – some would say stunts – focused on the hard right.
Above all, Cuccinelli is very intense: from the size of his family (seven children without problems) to his daily long commute from Richmond to his house in NoVa as an AG to his references at the Republican National Congress in 2016 in violent protest against Donald Trump’s rise, from reversing and serving the 45th immigration president with a hardline imprimatur, to the two hours he spent on a weekday morning with college students including this future reporter (Cuccinellis senior, Governor McDonnell, seemed more the master the five-minute gladhand).
But a scorched earth instinct would cost him: Cuccinelli’s allies manipulated the governor nomination process so that Republicans would vote by convention, not primary. The maneuver may have successfully incapacitated longtime Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling (who had his own granita pact with McDonnell), but it saddled him up with a rather ridiculous wingman, the bombastic and decidedly ill-advised EW Jackson, after a day of grinding cunning rolled into one Richmond Convention Hall. Cuccinelli lost the race by less than two points in November. His breakneck, relentlessly partisan reputation inspired a fairly credible libertarian challenger, Robert Sarvis, who received nearly seven percent of the vote, and Jackson ran a full nine points behind Cuccinelli.
In short, the Republicans screwed it up. And since then they have probably never been the same.
The Convention’s chicane did not begin in 2013. In the 2008 Senate election, former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore, later best known as the Gadfly loser in the presidential election, pushed for a convention to moderate Congressman Tom Davis. It worked and Gilmore literally lost two to one to Warner in a performance that would predict his strength at the national level.
But it was in 2013 that this new institution seemingly codified the legend of the consistent losers.
By 2021, more established personalities would be accused of using the technique to measure hardliners. U.S. State Senator Amanda Chase, who was censored earlier this year by her peers over pro-Capitol Hill riots, repeatedly claimed that former Lt. Governor Pete Snyder feared and praised her performance in an elementary school as an independent candidate run if Synder triumphs. Snyder had bigger problems than Chase and came across the Youngkin circular saw. Youngkin playfully contrasted Snyder’s business experience with his own, calling the venture capitalist “J.V.” Snyder acknowledged that it was clear that the electorate wanted an outsider with business experience, but like veteran political columnist Jeff E. Schapiro of the Richmond Times mailingSnyder lost to “the only candidate with a bank account bigger than his” in what looked like a Commonwealth for sale.
Kirk Cox, a former State House spokesman, also attended, but finished fourth in the rankings after Youngkin, Snyder and Chase. Cox had the support of former Senator Allen, former Governor McDonnell, and former Congressman Davis: the benevolence, if not charity, of many old colleagues. But it was Snyder who lined up many of the state’s younger political players, namely the full list of the 2013 race: Cuccinelli, Jackson, and Senator Mark Obenshain. It wasn’t enough. And although Youngkin had supporters in the high command of the state, like Senator Steve Newman, who wrote that he believed that Youngkin had “a very personal relationship with Christ,” Youngkin’s approach was not from Virginia at all: it was Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Youngkin shot a fancy video with the 2016 GOP runner-up for president, and Cruz’s enthusiasm for fellow Gen Xer was clear and stormed the state. Youngkin was also treated favorably by a Californian: conservative Washington Post Columnist and fixer Hugh Hewitt. The CEO of the Richard Nixon Foundation named Youngkin “the next governor of Virginia” during an interview with the candidate during the Congressional campaign and this week outlined Youngkin’s strategy of competing in the liberal north of the state and urged his audience to join the campaign join and donate.
Cruz is a decent fellow for Youngkin in many ways. Both men are clearly talented, with populist panache but one paired with a high profile background. They are actually from the state but are somewhat unknown and distrusted by the local political elite. They are for Trump if necessary. They are ideologically vague and not a complete break with the party’s past – certainly to the relief, if not the enthusiasm, of conservative grandees like Hewitt.
Above all, however, Sabato stressed that Youngkin is “an almost complete stranger” and that this represents at least a fundamental change for a state and a party as mysterious and old-fashioned as everyone else in the country.
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