Glenn Youngkin wants you to believe that he’s going all in on the 2023 Virginia General Assembly elections because that’s his way to emerge as the top contender to Donald Trump in the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race.
That’s not what is really going on here, though.
Because Youngkin has never been, is not now, and will not be a player in 2024.
What he needs to be thinking about is, how he can remain relevant after his one four-year term as governor ends in 2026.
This is the challenge that all Virginia governors face – think: Ralph Northam, Terry McAuliffe, Bob McDonnell.
You win your election, get used to that State Police escort, people calling you “His Excellency,” and then, poof, it all goes away.
Youngkin, 56, has one advantage over other former governors, in the form of a U.S. Senate seat held by someone from the other party that comes up for re-election in 2026.
That would be the one currently held by Democrat Mark Warner, himself a former governor.
Warner will be 71 in 2026, and as a senior senator with Intelligence Committee bona fides, it’s a safe bet to assume that he will stand for another re-election, which would set up a massively huge Senate race, if Youngkin were to look at 2026 as his best opportunity to build toward a political future past his four years in Richmond.
Honestly, that’s what his dalliance with 2024 had to be really all about – raising his profile to make him a legit enough player to be able to take on Warner one-on-one in 2026.
Youngkin, as governor in a bluish-purple state, was never going to be able to make a dent in the 2024 GOP race, not with Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sucking all the air out of the room with their far-right back-and-forthing.
The split Virginia General Assembly – Democrats control the State Senate, Republicans the House of Delegates – has prevented Youngkin from being able to claim the kinds of political victories that would appeal to the current-day Republican primary electorate.
Assuming, though, that the general in 2024 ends up being a repeat of 2020 – Joe Biden beating Donald Trump – the political winds could be on their way to shifting.
Two straight losses by the MAGA Trump wing would seem to foretell moderation going forward, at the risk of Republicans just throwing in the towel for the next generation.
It would be in that environment that Youngkin, who isn’t a good fit in the MAGA Republican Party, could be a player.
So, in that context, 2023 in Virginia becomes mega important to his future.
If Youngkin can help bankroll Republican majorities in both houses, he gets instant street cred.
It wouldn’t hurt him to then try a late entry into the 2024 presidential race, because the fallback position, when he would come up way, way short, would be, I only lost because I put all my focus on the Virginia state races, effectively, I took one for the team there.
The stage would be set, then, for a game of the century-level 2026 Senate race, Youngkin v. Warner.