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If You Care about Democracy, You Should Want Glenn Youngkin to Win

  There  is a certain species of argument going around again (see, for example,  this Mona Charen column ) that holds that the only way to “...


There is a certain species of argument going around again (see, for example, this Mona Charen column) that holds that the only way to “save democracy” is to vote party-line Democrat with the goal of installing one-party governance throughout the United States. Charen specifically concludes that she should vote for Terry McAuliffe over Glenn Youngkin for governor of Virginia for reasons having little to do with Youngkin and entirely without reference to the merits of McAuliffe. This is justified mainly by the behavior of Donald Trump, and the fear that Trump will return in 2024. It is, however, an argument based on both a fundamental misreading of political reality and a refusal to look at the Democrats.

Will Trump Be Back?

The theory, like so many bad ideas, starts with a kernel of truth: Trump’s response to his loss in the 2020 election was unique and genuinely alarming, he is unrepentant, and, if the opportunity recurred, he would do it all again. Yes, it is probably true that Trump was motivated more by a refusal to admit defeat — and a desire to maintain his power within the Republican Party by convincing people he was still a winner — than by any sort of coherent plan to hang on to the presidency. But no matter; he would gladly have accepted another term by any means if his antics had delivered one. It took a number of key Republicans in important positions standing up to Trump to ensure the lawful transition of power (which was marred by the January 6 Capitol riot), and Trump has responded with a scorched-earth vendetta campaign against them. He has gone so far as to openly pine for the Democrat Stacey Abrams to beat the Republican Brian Kemp for the governorship of Georgia.

Trump continues to lead significantly in polls of Republicans for the 2024 nomination, and there remains a kind of superstitious fear that Trump would destroy the reputation and career of anyone who ran against him in a primary, should he announce that he’s running again. If he does run and win the nomination, the likeliest outcome is that he would lose again. And given how badly Joe Biden is bungling things, the likelihood is that it would not be a blowout and that some states would be close. So, there is a genuine concern that we might face a repeat of 2020, with Trump having ground down the Republican Party’s devotion to the rules.

It is, however, very premature to assume that Trump will be the next Republican standard-bearer, and imprudent — even if you are wholly uninterested in what elected officials do with government power outside of elections — to simply abandon the project of electing Republicans who are not dependent upon Trump.

On the first point: three years is a long time in politics, and it is a particularly long time when you’re 75 years old. Joe Biden has aged in dog years in his seventies, and there is no guarantee that Trump will make it through the next three years in perfect health and vigor. The living example of Biden will only drive home for Republican primary voters the downsides of electing very old men. In the meantime, Trump will keep talking about the 2020 election like he’s Al Bundy reliving the big game.

Will Republican voters desert Trump en masse? If they didn’t after January 6, they never will. But that doesn’t mean they’re not ready to move on and back a younger, stronger horse. We keep seeing small signs of cracks forming that would not matter for an election in 2021 or 2022, but could grow by 2024. A straw poll last weekend of 740 attendees at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference in Michigan found 47.5 percent ready to back Trump again, but that’s less than half — and there were further signs of Trump fatigue:

About 60% of the attendees who participated in the survey said they would vote for a Republican even if the candidate didn’t agree with Trump’s assertion that the 2020 election was stolen. About 44% of those polled said his endorsement would make no difference in whether they would support a candidate. Another 11% said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate endorsed by Trump.

All this is speculative for now, of course. But how does one water the seeds of a post-Trump party? By backing candidates who can point the way. In 2018, we had many of these same voices arguing that voters had an obligation to drive Republicans from office in the midterm elections. My response at the time was that we ought to keep more of the non-Trump Republicans — the very people who stood up to him two years later.

In particular, one reason why Republican voters flock to Trump and indulge his worst instincts is despair. They fear that they are losing ground to a powerful undertow of changing demographics, media and Big Tech bias, and rigged elections. Every defeat for anyone other than Trump — indeed, even Trump’s own defeat — only confirms this. The best possible way to break the grip would be to show that Republicans can rally and retake some of the places that seem to have fallen the furthest the fastest. That didn’t work in California behind Larry Elder, a combative right-wing talk-radio guy. But what if it worked in Virginia, a solidly red state from the Eisenhower through George W. Bush eras that transformed seemingly overnight into a solidly blue state?

What if that was accomplished by a fairly low-key generic Republican businessman who has tried to run a conventional general-election campaign? Wouldn’t that be a step toward showing the voters that there is life after Trump?

What about Virginia’s Candidates?

Then there are the candidates themselves. If any race is a bad setting in which to argue for punishing statewide candidates for their party’s sins against the legitimacy of elections, it is the Virginia governor’s race. The entirety of Charen’s case against Glenn Youngkin is as follows:

Even a seemingly inoffensive candidate such as Glenn Youngkin has given aid and comfort to this sinister agenda by stressing “election integrity” in his campaign. It doesn’t change a thing to reflect that he’s almost certainly insincere. He stopped talking about it after winning the primary, suggesting that all the “integrity” talk was just a sop to MAGA voters. Still, a victory for him will send a message that the Republican Party is normal again, a party that good people can support.

First of all, the integrity of elections is, in fact, a good thing to pursue. But the fact that Youngkin insists on moderating his approach to address the concerns of the actual voters in Virginia is a pretty good indication that he’s not Corey Stewart. Here is Youngkin in Tuesday night’s debate:

Moderator: Mr. Youngkin, former President Trump has endorsed your campaign and you’ve embraced his endorsement. This month, Trump raised questions about the integrity of this election, as he has about his and other elections without evidence. He said, quote, you know how they cheat in elections, the Virginia governor’s election, you better watch it. You have a close race in Virginia, but it’s not close. If they cheat. My question. Do you believe there has been significant fraud in previous Virginia elections? And do you agree with President Trump, that Democrats may cheat in this one?

Glenn Youngkin: So I do not believe there’s been significant fraud in Virginia elections. But I believe this is a democracy issue we’re talking about, not a Republican issue, not a Democrat issue . . . I’ve said over and over again, that Joe Biden’s our president, I wish he wasn’t . . . I think we need to invest in our election system, like Florida did after that hanging chad incident, to the point where Florida’s election system is trusted. It’s trusted by all, voters in Virginians deserve that. And that’s the kind of investment I’ll make when I’m governor. I’ll invest in making sure our voter rolls are updated. I’ll ask everyone to show up to vote with a photo ID and Virginians will trust our election system.

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