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Glenn Youngkin May Not Be Replicable
There's only one piece of bad new for Republicans coming out of Virginia.
Heads Up: We’re doing a special edition of TNB on Tuesday night to talk about the Virginia results in real time. Put it on your calendar. It’ll be the smartest discussion of the race you’ll find anywhere.
And it’s only for Bulwark+ members.
If you’re not signed up, this is your chance.
1. Replicating the Results
Seeing around corners is what we do here,1 so you should not be surprised that Glenn Youngkin is poised to shock the world and win the Virginia governor’s race.
I’m not saying he’s a stone-cold lock, but it seems to me that the outcomes, in order of descending probability, are:
Youngkin < +5
Youngkin > +5
McAuliffe < +5
But I want to focus on a part of this race that’s important to understand regardless of the outcome:
The Glenn Youngkin strategy might not be replicable, because Youngkin never had to face Republican primary voters.
The Youngkin formula is simple:
Super-rich outsider who can self-fund. (Youngkin has “loaned” his campaign at least $16 million.)
Hugs Trump during the primaries, but always leaves a sliver of ambiguity.
Pretends Trump doesn’t exist during the general election and runs as Mitt Romney.
But this pathway was only available to Youngkin because this year the Virginia Republican party did away with its primary election.
In 2017, the Virginia GOP held a primary election and the establishment candidate barely edged out a no-money, Confederate-loving, Trump clone. This was early in the Trump takeover of the party and out of 366,000 ballots cast, the establishment guy (Ed Gillespie) won by 5,000 votes.
The closeness of this race scared the crap out of the state party, because in the two previous gubernatorial races, the party had cleared the field for their nominees so that no primary was necessary and the candidates (Ken Cuccinelli in 2013; Bob McDonnell in 2009) were simply affirmed at the state party convention.
In 2021, the Virginia GOP had a problem. They had a crazy Trump clone—Amanda Chase—who almost certainly would have won an open primary vote. The establishment favorite was a guy named Pete Snyder. So the party cobbled together an “unassembled convention” in which party members cast ranked-choice votes at 39 drive-by polling places.2
The rules were fairly arcane:
Votes in the GOP contests are weighted to reward local units with high GOP turnout in the most recent presidential and gubernatorial election. While 54,000 delegates signed up to participate Saturday and more than 30,000 cast ballots, the party allocated a total of 12,554 votes to party units representing counties and cities around the state. In some cases a county had hundreds more delegates than allotted votes, so their votes were apportioned as fractions of the locality's total.
And even with this perfect storm—both a full-MAGA candidate and a RINO establishment favorite to triangulate against, a vast personal war chest, and a state party willing to monkey with the rules in order to keep the MAGA candidate out—Youngkin still barely squeezed through to win the nomination.
Again: None of this should be interpreted as whistling past the graveyard for Democrats. A Youngkin victory would be a bad sign for Joe Biden and for Democrats nationally.3
But Republicans have a problem, too. And that problem is their voters.
Left to their own devices, Democratic voters tend to pick more moderate candidates, such as Biden and McAuliffe, in competitive races.
Left to their own devices in Virginia, Republican voters either (a) would not have chosen Glenn Youngkin; or (b) would have forced Youngkin to go much, much further into MAGA territory—which would have made his general election strategy inoperable.
Unless Republicans in other states can come up with tricks like “disassembled conventions” to keep their voters from deciding primary races, then Glenn Youngkin probably isn’t a workable model in most cases going forward.
2. There Is Not Another
If Youngkin wins, the “Biden can’t run in 2024” talk will be really, really loud on Wednesday. Especially in light of this poll:
So when you look at Dems+Leaners:
36 percent say they think Dems have a better chance of winning in 2024 with Biden;
44 percent say Dems would be better off with someone else.
Plus: Biden is so old!
Democrats will have to replace him with Candidate X for 2024!
I don’t buy it.
Joe Biden may not be a great candidate come January of 2021. But there is no alternative. He’s going to have to run.
Biden is the guy holding the entire Democratic coalition together at this point.
And Democratic voters will come around on this.
When? Probably after Republicans retake the House (and possibly the Senate). And once it becomes clear that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee.
3. The Haunted Mansion
What a piece:
At first glance, Dr. Gerald A. Laughlin seemed an unlikely taker. A man with round proportions and well-groomed facial hair that brought an Old World colonel to mind, he had a conspiratorial smile that tended to pull people into an easy confidence. No one could have looked more out of place in a rundown house with a leaky roof and busted windows. His previous home was tidy and nestled in a row of prim houses with broad front lawns in Bethel Park, a fashionable suburb of Pittsburgh.
But under the respectable veneer, there had always been something different about Laughlin. A doctor, yes, but a doctor of chiropractic medicine, a discipline founded only a few decades before on the idea that all diseases stemmed from an interruption in the flow of divine presence. He was also one of only eighteen qualified hypnotists in the Pittsburgh area. . . .
In his second week there, he was jarred out of a dead sleep. Since moving in, there had been no shortage of things on his mind to keep him awake. The what-ifs of his relationship with his wife, his son facing life without a father, the lost earning potential and career. This time, though, it wasn’t his thoughts that woke him, but a sound: A crash that shook the three-story brick structure.
Jumping to his feet and grabbing the bedside flashlight, he rushed from his room in the rear of the house to the main hall. Standing beside a staircase and wondering if the crash had come from upstairs, he stood in the dark, listening.
The beam of his flashlight, a skinny cylinder of light in which the dust floated and played, made the place seem endless and black.
Concluding that the sound must have come from outside, he spun toward the back door. Then he froze. Framed in the circle of light from his beam hovered a swirling white cloud. Regaining his senses, Laughlin assumed the sight must be smoke and rushed toward it in search of fire. But as he reached the spot, he found himself enveloped by what he described as a freezing, inescapable mist. Laughlin claimed “icy fingers, fiery in their coldness” clutched at every part of him. Paranormal researchers categorize mist as one of several manifestations of spirits, along with orbs, ectoplasm, shadows, and the more traditional apparitions that appear as they might have in life. Typically, mist is described as hovering above the ground and lasting only briefly. According to those who believe, the supernatural mist represents a spirit’s initial attempt to transform itself into a full-bodied apparition, manifesting either because it does not know or will not accept death, or fears the terrible judgment it knows it has earned.
For several seconds Laughlin described not being able to move, not even thinking except to repeat silently, desperately, God, deliver me from evil. Shortly after surrounding Laughlin, the mist dissolved. He might have proceeded to open the now-unobstructed door to explore outside, only he discovered that he was no longer standing at the back door but had somehow returned to the door of his bedroom.
We’ll talk about this a lot more later in the week.