Youngkin tries to thread the needle with Trump supporters and opponents

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The Virginia Republican is trying to separate himself from Donald Trump without alienating his supporters.

At a debate Tuesday night, Glenn Youngkin — the Republican nominee for Virginia governor — said he would support former President Donald Trump if he wins the GOP presidential primary in 2024.

"If Donald Trump runs for president in 2024, will you support him?" NBC News' Chuck Todd asked Youngkin at the debate.

Youngkin attempted to dodge the question. "Who knows who's going to be running for president in 2024?" he asked, only to be met with a chorus of boos from the audience.

After Todd pressed him again, Youngkin finally said, "If he's the nominee, I'll support him."

Youngkin, who last year retired as co-CEO of the Carlyle Group private equity firm, has been reluctant to vocally express support for former President Trump in order to present himself as more moderate to centrist suburban voters."

Since winning the Republican nomination in May, Youngkin's campaign has been defined by an unwillingness to fully commit to embracing or condemning the former president. His strategy, it would seem, is to appeal to Virginia's pro-Trump GOP base without alienating anti-Trump suburban moderates.

While Democratic former Gov. Terry McAuliffe has enjoyed a slight lead over Youngkin ahead of the Nov. 2 election, the polls have tightened in recent weeks — suggesting that Youngkin's high-wire balancing act may be working.

Trump lost Virginia to President Joe Biden by a whopping 10 points in 2020. Biden's success in the state was due in large part to flipping votes in historically red areas like Chesterfield County, which last went blue in 1948, when Harry S. Truman was the Democratic nominee.

Youngkin's equivocations have not gone unnoticed. Last week, Trump told conservative talk radio host John Fredericks that while Youngkin has been "very nice and all, the only guys that win are the guys that embrace the MAGA movement."

"When they try to go down a railroad track, you know, 'Hey, oh yeah, sure, love it, love it. Oh, yeah, love Trump. Love Trump. Okay, let’s go, next subject.' When they do that they never win. They never win. They have to embrace it," Trump added.

Throughout his general election campaign, Youngkin has tried his best to neither explicitly support nor condemn Trump's many incendiary comments on immigration, racism, and the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by far-right zealots.

However, Youngkin did break with Trump on the former president's repeated — and totally debunked — claims of widespread "voter fraud" in the 2020 election.

At the first gubernatorial debate on Sept. 16, Youngkin was asked point-blank if he thought that there had been "significant fraud" in Virginia's election process.

"No," Youngkin replied.

That answer seemed to contradict his past statements during the Republican primary. Then, Youngkin said "election integrity" would be his "top priority" as governor. He even formed a so-called "Election Integrity Task Force," complete with a five-point plan to "ensure that all legal votes will count in Virginia."

A May Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 53% of Republicans believe Trump won the 2020 presidential election, despite overwhelming evidence that Biden won.

Youngkin's balancing act isn't limited to talking points about alleged "voter fraud." He's expressed support for many of the same hard-right positions that defined Trump's presidency. Like Trump, Youngkin is in favor of restricting abortion rights, imposing massive tax cuts for the wealthy, and loosening gun laws. He has also said he opposes Virginia's masking, vaccination, and testing mandates to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the state.

At a private event last week, Youngkin said that if elected, he could "remove" Gov. Ralph Northam's requirements that Virginia state employees either prove they are vaccinated or present a negative COVID test each week "on day one."

Much of Youngkin's platform is at odds with many of the progressive reforms that Virginia Democrats have enacted in the past few years, such as abolishing the death penalty, preventing convicted domestic abusers from owning a firearm, requiring mandatory background checks for gun purchases, allowing courts to authorize police to take guns away from those deemed an imminent threat, and removing impediments to abortion access. Youngkin has said that he would attempt to repeal Virginia's gun control and abortion legislation.

In recent weeks, Youngkin has even started to sound a bit like Trump, echoing some of the former president's bombastic rhetoric.

"It’s no longer a campaign, it’s a movement," Youngkin told Fox News host Laura Ingraham on Wednesday.

He added: "I invite everybody to join the movement ... and watch Virginia stand up."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.