Imagine New York with a governor who wants to lower the cost of living and grow jobs, fix failing school systems and empower parents, support law enforcement and make our neighborhoods safer, attract more businesses to the state and stop the exodus of New Yorkers, make government work and address the mental health crisis, all while standing for unity and taking the “smashmouth” out of politics.
How nice that would be.
Sadly, it’s a pipe dream in New York, for now, at least.
But in Virginia, it’s the recipe for success for Gov. Glenn Youngkin, and in just 18 months, the rookie politician has started to turn his state around.
The genial former private equity chief executive is living proof that “conservative common sense policies work,” in a state that he sees as a microcosm of America.
In 2021 his soothing mix of gentle optimism and policies focused on the economy, public safety, and “empowering parents,” won him a standout victory in a state that had voted for Joe Biden by 10 points and backed Democrats for two decades.
Uniting the party
While his opponents tried to pigeonhole him as a Trump clone, he subtly distanced himself enough from the former president to win over suburban women who had turned off the GOP, while still winning over deep red counties.
“We brought together Forever Trumpers and Never Trumpers and libertarians and Tea Party members and independents and moderates and a bunch of Democrats, and we brought them together around the basic truth that we need to have opportunity, not equity,” Youngkin, 56, told The Post in an interview last week at a cafe in Fredericksburg, where he said grace before leaving his cheeseburger untouched.
His platform was based on what he calls “basic conservative building blocks . . . lowering the cost of living, and then overhauling education, and returning to core values about the role of parents in their kids’ lives, standing up for law enforcement, and not demeaning them, to make our neighborhoods safer, making government work better. This was just foundational stuff. And the states that were winning were doing it well, and those states that were losing were doing it poorly.”
A 6-foot-7 gentle giant with a perpetual smile, he already looks presidential, but says he is bemused by growing pressure to enter the presidential race, as Ron DeSantis falters and Donald Trump is ensnared in Machiavellian Democrat lawfare.
“It’s humbling . . . I grew up in just a very normal American circumstance [and] 41 years ago I would have been at the Belvedere diner [in Virginia Beach], washing the dishes, and taking out the trash, and now people are saying, ‘You should jump into the presidential race’? You have to understand how out of body that is for me,” he said. “Three years ago, I was talking to my wife about quitting my job and maybe running for governor so this whole discussion is surreal.”
Youngkin added, “I’m glad folks are pretty appreciative of what we’re doing. And I think they are appreciative of the way in which I do it. I don’t back down. I stay firm on what I believe . . . But I also don’t think we have to turn everything into smashmouth.”
While not explicitly ruling out a late presidential entry, he says he is “laser-focused” on Virginia’s pivotal legislature election in November when he hopes he can oust Democrats from the state Senate, a tall order given fresh redistricting challenges.
“I have very high aspirations [and think] we can hold our house and flip our Senate to really drive Virginia to be number one at everything . . . Literally in 18 months, just the levers we pulled have catapulted us up the leadership rankings in so many categories.”
But Democratic fundraising is outstripping Republican, with George Soros tipping in buckets of money to Virginia, knowing a Youngkin triumph will elevate the social conservative to national contention.
Trump strategists, too, are keeping a beady eye on his fortunes.
One DeSantis donor flirting with a late-stage swap warns of plans to persuade Trump voters to stay home.
Youngkin stays sunny about the challenges, focusing on early voting and absentee ballots, something Republicans traditionally left to Democrats.
“We have a 45-day early voting period here. And I want to use all 45 days. I’m so tired of going into Election Day down thousands of votes,” he said. “We’re going to write the definitive how-to [on winning elections]. We brought Brian Kemp team’s up, and he did a great job in Georgia.
“I also believe that the way we engage with independent and moderate voters is hugely important [in] deciding elections. You’ve got to go spend time with them.”
Fixing a lost cause
He was in seventh grade, living near Richmond, when his father Carroll, who played basketball at Duke, lost his accounting job.
His mother, Ellis, a nurse, moved the family to Virginia Beach to start over again, but Carroll lost his next job.
Glenn worked as a short order cook through a mechanical engineering degree from Rice University and Harvard Business School.
He soon made up for his father’s lack of career success, becoming co-CEO of the Carlyle Group and amassing a fortune big enough to self-fund his own campaigns.
Practicing Christians, he and his wife of 29 years, Suzanne, have four adult children aged 19 to 26. He calls his rapid ascension in politics “a real calling.”
In the spring of 2020 with the country shut down, “in my own private prayer life, I really contemplated what I was supposed to be doing . . . I asked my wife to go on a walk with me on a Friday night after my last zoom call, and I told her that I was going to quit my job and run for governor. She immediately thought she should dial 911!” he quips. “I met with all kinds of folks . . . all over the state, and built a plan underpinned by the fact that I thought Virginia was going in such the wrong direction, and we needed to really get her redirected. And we had to win elections to do that.
“At the time the Republican party in Virginia had mastered one thing, losing statewide elections,” Youngkin noted, adding, “My first step [putting together] the basic conservative building blocks of we have got to lower the cost of living and stop the outflow of people because we’d had nine straight years of net out-migration.
“[I said] we have got to fix our schools . . . and we’re going to raise expectations and empower parents.” Plus, “I believe law enforcement should be celebrated.”
He pored over voting data to work out why Republicans always lost. “We’d driven women away from our party. We had candidates that could not win the Hispanic vote or the Asian vote, we had lost some suburbs and when you only get a low 30% of the votes in Northern Virginia, you cannot overcome the rest of the state.
“So we just laid out we’re going to get at least 40% of the votes in Northern Virginia . . . We’re going to win Hampton Roads — Joe Biden won there by a ton. We’re going to break even in Greater Richmond after no Republican has . . . and we have to blow it out in our traditional red counties. And we did.”
Unlike a lot of Republicans, the pro-life governor doesn’t see abortion as an electoral problem, but as an opportunity to unify Virginians on a 15-week ban, which he says is the pain threshold for an unborn child.
It’s a limit most Americans agree on, and he paints Democrats as extremists for advocating abortion “up to and including birth.”
He is a happy cultural warrior, pointing to a bill he signed allowing parents to opt their children out of classes with sexually explicit material.
In his short time in office, he points to economic successes, such as a 10-year high in labor force participation. “We have 200,000 people working today that weren’t working 18 months ago. We were bottom of the pack on job recovery and now we’re on top.”
He has a 57% approval rating and is “cautiously optimistic” about the looming elections, with early voting starting next month.
He sees November as a turning point in Republican fortunes at a time of division driven by Washington.
“There’s going to be nothing more important that we can do as Virginians, and Republicans than to demonstrate that a state that was lost can be regained. And when I say lost, I mean, on election night in 2020, the very first state called for Joe Biden was Virginia at 7:01 p.m. And I have never been more frustrated, embarrassed, and angry,” he said.
“I think we have a chance in November to demonstrate that in 24 short months in a state that was totally lost, we can sweep statewide elections . . . Virginia was going off the rails with people walking away so fast, and companies were picking up ready to go. And crime was going through the roof and education was gone.
“We bring conservative common sense approaches, and even in a crazy bipartisan congress . . . we can deliver.”
It’s a seductive pitch, especially in failing blue states.
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