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Glenn Youngkin Keeps Stoking the Election Conspiracy Fire

The Virginia gubernatorial candidate is trying to keep the GOP base happy—but nothing will satisfy the election-trutherism buzzsaw.
by Jim Swift
August 2, 2021
Glenn Youngkin Keeps Stoking the Election Conspiracy Fire
MCLEAN, VIRGINIA - JULY 14: Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) speaks during a campaign event on July 14, 2021 in McLean, Virginia. Youngkin is running against former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Glenn Youngkin, the Republican candidate in this year’s governor’s race in Virginia, refuses to reject conspiracy theories about Donald Trump having won the 2020 election. Two months after admitting that Joe Biden was “of course” the president, Youngkin continues to be coy about the legitimacy of Biden’s election, knowing that the Republican base demands no less of him.

Youngkin is a political chameleon, a quality he likely perfected as a VC bro. During his successful bid to win the bizarro GOP primary, he polluted the mailboxes of Virginia Republicans with promises to stand up for election integrity, despite the fact that there were no serious, nor even semi-serious, reasons to believe Virginia’s elections were problematic. 

As a primary candidate, Youngkin stayed mum on the easy reality-based question “Did Joe Biden win the election?” until after he defeated his “Trump in Heels” competitor, State Senator Amanda Chase. Only then did Youngkin concede that Biden is president—“Of course. He’s our president. He slept in the White House last night”—without conceding that Biden was legitimately elected president.

Is Youngkin going for Trump in the streets, Romney in the sheets? If he were, you’d think he’d run a conventional campaign after taking the nomination. After all, tacking hard to the Trump right in bluish-purple Virginia when you’re facing former Governor Terry McAuliffe isn’t likely to win you the election.

But that’s not what Youngkin is doing. In today’s Republican party, it’s all but impossible to throw red meat to the base and also seem sufficiently tethered to reality to attract moderates. That’s what sank Ed Gillespie in his 2017 gubernatorial run. The former RNC chairman made keeping Confederate statues an issue well before it became a national issue.

Youngkin has agreed to appear at an “election integrity” rally this coming weekend at (where else?) Liberty University. Virginia Democrats have encouraged Youngkin and other Republicans not to participate—again, there is no real evidence that election fraud is a problem in Virginia—but their call appears to have gone unheeded.

Meanwhile, at a rally in Fredericksburg last week, Youngkin got peppered with a few questions that might have been prompted by his mailers about election integrity, like this one from a woman in the audience:

I agree that Trump won, that it was all fraud. And if Trump comes back in August or September, and all of our Virginia races that were stolen also, will that change anything to get people out of office and back in—get our people back into office?

Here’s Youngkin’s response:

Yeah, ma’am, I don’t know the particulars about how that can happen, because what’s happening in the court system is moving slowly and it’s unclear. We all know that courts move slowly. I’m operating under the clear assumption that what we had happen election-wise last year—from an oversight and process standpoint—is exactly what we’re going to have this year. That’s why we’ve got to go to work. And if something else happens along the way, we’ll have to deal with it. But this year, we’ve just got to plan for 45 days of in-person and mail-in ballots starting on September 17 running all the way up to November 2nd. And getting as many people as we possibly can to vote early—as many volunteers as we can to help. I wish I had a better answer.

I wish Youngkin had a better answer, too. Because that’s blatant pandering. Notice his line about “what’s happening in the court system” and how “courts move slowly”—clearly implying that the 2020 election is a live issue still before the courts. In reality, state and federal courts moved quickly after the election, and they rejected the arguments that Donald Trump’s lawyers made in more than sixty lawsuits contesting various aspects of the election.

Glenn Youngkin on Election Fraud Audio

Earlier in the same Fredericksburg event, a man named Wilbert asked Youngkin this question:

I got a question. You know, it’s probably old news, everybody’s heard. But in 2020 we had fraud in the election. My wife’s sister died in 2019. She voted in 2020 [garbled audio] . . . Have they done anything . . .?

Youngkin’s response? 

So, sir, I wish I had a magic wand, because we’ve got these same rules going into 2021. And so this is—and by the way, when I’m governor, we’ll be able to make some reforms, and I’ve told this to everybody. This is not a Republican issue. This is not a Democrat issue. This is an American democracy issue. We have to have faith in our election process. By the way, one quick note. You may have noticed that my opponent, Terry McAuliffe, is the one who sat there and right after George W. Bush beat Al Gore and said “they stole the election from him, we have to have audits.”

Let’s unpack this a bit. First, Wilbert seems to be claiming that his wife’s dead sister was still a registered voter in 2020—plausible, since when someone dies he or she is not not instantly removed from the voter rolls—and that some person received a ballot in the dead woman’s name and cast a vote in 2020. How and where did this happen? Who cast the vote? How would Wilbert know about this—unless the fraudulent vote was cast by Wilbert himself, or someone in his family?

Second, notice that Youngkin, Mr. Election Integrity, neither challenges the question nor asks the questioner for additional information so that Youngkin can look into the case. He simply lets the questioner’s premise—that votes were being cast in the name of dead voters in 2020—stand. Given how much time he’s spent talking up election integrity, you’d think Youngkin would eagerly pursue such a claim of fraud.

It’s rich to hear Youngkin tell people who have bought into the election-fraud lies that “we have to have faith in our election process” when his campaign strategy has relied on silence about who actually won the election and on spreading doubt via umpteen-thousand mailers touting his “election integrity task force” when Virginia had no discernible election fraud. 

When John McCain ran against Barack Obama in 2008, McCain forcefully denied questions from supporters who wrongly believed that Obama was born in Kenya. Glenn Youngkin is trying to have it both ways, and it will be entertaining and depressing to watch between now and November.

Jim Swift

Jim Swift is a senior editor at The Bulwark.