Less than a year after winning office by presenting himself as not at all like Donald Trump, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin is now endorsing a woman who insists the 2020 election was stolen from the former president and who has compared herself and other Trump supporters to Jesus.
Youngkin is to spend a day next month campaigning with Kari Lake, the GOP nominee for governor in Arizona and one of the most prolific spreaders of Trump’s election lies in the Republican world outside of Trump himself.
Republicans who left the party because of Trump’s misdeeds, culminating in his coup attempt on Jan. 6, 2021, said Youngkin’s willingness to support election liars like Lake is revealing.
“He didn’t run as a ‘normal’ Republican. He ran as an enabler of the crazies. In today’s GOP, there are crazies and there are enablers of the crazies,” said Joe Walsh, a former GOP congressman from Illinois. “His helping Kari Lake, a crazy, get elected, is not a surprise and reinforces his status as an enabler.”
David Jolly, a former GOP congressman from Florida, said Youngkin ― who’s unable to run for reelection because of Virginia’s single-term limit ― is now trying to appeal to the median Republican voter nationally, which means countenancing Trump’s stolen election claims.
“I feel a little duped myself in how I saw his candidacy,” Jolly said. “It may be we put too much stock in Youngkin the candidate instead of realizing his race was likely just an exercise in matching a message with where the constituency was for the Virginia general election.”
Youngkin’s political operation declined to comment on his decision to support Lake, or on the former television newscaster’s various statements during her campaign.
Last week, when Youngkin visited Reno, Nevada, in support of the GOP nominee for governor there, HuffPost asked him how he’d respond to fellow Republicans, like Lake, who continue to insist the 2020 election was stolen.
“We have to look forward. That’s what we have to do as Republicans,” Youngkin said, using the euphemism some Republicans have adopted to suggest the party should stop dwelling on Trump’s false claims. “The reality of course is that we have to work to make people feel more confident about the election process.”
Lake, though, is not likely to stop repeating Trump’s lie that the election was rigged and stolen when it comes time for Youngkin’s Oct. 19 visit.
“The Kari Lake you had in the primary is the Kari Lake you get in the general,” one Lake aide said on condition of anonymity, adding that Youngkin’s staff had not made any requests that Lake not repeat the stolen election lie during their day together.
Lake won Trump’s support early on with her visits to his Mar-a-Lago social club in Florida and her enthusiastic embrace of his repeatedly debunked claims of massive fraud in the 2020 election. More recently, during a campaign visit at a church, she repeated his 2015 claim that immigrants coming across the U.S.-Mexico border are criminals.
“They are bringing drugs. They are bringing crime. They are rapists, and that’s who’s coming across our border,” she said.
In that same appearance, she said she didn’t mind if President Joe Biden criticized her and Trump followers who support the mob that assaulted the Capitol on Jan. 6 because Jesus Christ was also criticized.
“You can call us extremists. You can call us domestic terrorists. You know who else was called a lot of names his whole life? Jesus,” she said.
Youngkin, who took office in January, narrowly defeated Democratic former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a race that turned on Youngkin’s ability to spur high turnout among Trump supporters in rural Virginia counties while trimming his losses in the state’s northern suburbs, where Trump is largely loathed.
He did so by emphasizing education, crime and inflation while largely ignoring Trump’s election lies. His ability to win a state that Biden carried by double digits in 2020 immediately made him a potential contender in the eyes of major GOP donors.
Youngkin’s failure now to chart a course away from Trumpism is disappointing, one senior Republican strategist said.
“It’s expected that Donald Trump and [Florida Gov.] Ron DeSantis would campaign for Kari Lake. It’s very frustrating to see Glenn Youngkin cast his lot with them as opposed to standing with the sane and rational Republicans who recognize that our party will never move forward if we embrace election deniers and condone their dangerous lies,” the consultant said on condition of anonymity. “While he may see political upside to appealing to the QAnon crowd as he grows his national brand, he’s doing permanent damage to any chance of being seen as a responsible leader with respected principles.”
To Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, Youngkin’s decision to campaign with Kari Lake, rather than denouncing her, is beyond disappointing and more an abdication.
“Youngkin has already campaigned for a rogue’s gallery of election deniers ― I prefer the term ‘election liars.’ Tudor Dixon in Michigan, Paul LePage in Maine, Joe Lombardo in Nevada, and others,” Sabato said. “So Kari Lake fits right in, but she may be the most extreme of the lot.”