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FIGHT ON THE RIGHT: Did Youngkin Win Because of Trump — Or In Spite of Him?

Republican Glenn Youngkin’s victory in Tuesday’s Virginia gubernatorial election has unleashed a fight on the right over the future of Trumpian politics.

SO WHAT

Conservatives are competing to take credit for Youngkin’s success — and control of the GOP.

WHAT THE TRUMPISTS ARE SAYING

Former President Donald Trump has made clear that he views the results in Virginia as testament to the power of the populist movement he built.

Trump, in a statement Wednesday, quoted conservative Virginia radio host John Fredericks crediting him with Youngkin’s “blue state” stunner.

“Without ‘MAGA,’ [Youngkin] would have lost by 15 points, more,” Trump told Fredericks earlier in the day. “Instead of giving us credit they say, ‘Oh, he’s more popular than me.”

  • “I would like to thank my BASE for coming out in force and voting for Glenn Youngkin,” Trump also said in a statement Tuesday. “Without you, he would not have been close to winning. The MAGA movement is bigger and stronger than ever before.”

Steve Bannon, Trump’s ally and former White House chief strategist, said on his “Real America’s Voice” talk show Tuesday that Youngkin owed his rise to having embraced “Trump policies.”

  • “Remember, Glenn Youngkin went from a guy who was very milquetoast and very super-moderate,” said Bannon, a Richmond native who held a rally for Youngkin earlier this month
  • Bannon anticipated a Youngkin win could launch a “MAGA” political revolution that would “change the next decade” and presumably put Trump back in the White House.

Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the Republican National Committee, tweeted Tuesday, “Terry McAuliffe and Democrats tried to run against Trump in Virginia but their strategy backfired. … President Trump continues to be a huge boost for Republicans across the country.”

WHAT THE TRUMP SKEPTICS ARE SAYING

The Daily Beast’s Matt Lewis, a “Never Trump”-sympathetic conservative, argued in a widely circulated column Monday that a Youngkin win would “remind Republicans that a normal (non-Trumpy) conservative can still win in purple states like Virginia.”

“Youngkin, with the look and feel of a Mitt Romney, has given suburban voters permission to vote Republican and not feel bad about it,” Lewis wrote of the wealthy former finance executive. “In a way, it feels like coming home again.”

Barbara Comstock, a Republican former northern Virginia congresswoman, on Monday tweeted a screenshot of the Drudge Report homepage blaring, “Youngkin Winning Without Trump: Republican Reset?”

Ross Douthat, a populist-light New York Times columnist and Trump critic, declared on Twitter, “I’ll just say it: Glenn Youngkin should seriously consider running for president in 2024.”

  • “The combination of a struggling Democratic administration and an overreaching cultural progressivism has created an immense political opportunity, and under current conditions you don’t actually need a Trump-like figure at the top of the ticket to mobilize Donald Trump’s core voters,” Douthat elaborated in a column Wednesday. “Instead, with the right candidate and circumstances, you can hold your Trumpist base and win back suburbanites as well.”
  • “[A]t the very least, a certain kind of Republican donor and consultant will wake up this morning from a very pleasant dream — of Glenn Youngkin’s 2021 campaign, run as a presidential race in 2024,” he said.

THE LAST WORD

While Democrats and mainstream media personalities have been eager to equate Youngkin with Trump, the governor-elect was careful to neither embrace or reject the former president on the campaign trail — creating a potential model for other Republicans.

  • “Candidates matter,” Youngkin chief strategist Jeff Roe said Tuesday night. “We weren’t defined by [former President Barack] Obama, we weren’t defined by Trump, we were defined by Glenn.”

A close Youngkin ally, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The 4PM at the National Conservatism Conference in Orlando, Florida, over the weekend that Youngkin planned to use the governorship as a springboard to run for president in 2024.

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