Youngkin victory tough to repeat, but GOP can still follow his lead

Matthew Continetti
Conservative Opinion

Matthew Continetti

Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute
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The verdict is in: Republican Glenn Youngkin, the next governor of Virginia, ran an impressive campaign. 

He defined himself as a basketball-playing, dog-loving dad from the suburbs before his opponent could portray him as Donald Trump in fleece. 

He tailored his message to his locality and avoided national debates. None of his television ads featured President Biden. None mentioned illegal immigration. Youngkin ran on kitchen-table issues: schools, crime, and rising prices. Republicans hope to enjoy similar success by following Youngkin’s path in 2022. But the truth is that Youngkin’s come-from-behind victory might not be easily repeated. 

The political environment may change between now and next November. 

And Youngkin is not like most candidates. He stays on message. He is positive and optimistic without coming across as sentimental. He’s quick on his feet. And nothing gets under his skin.

It’s less as a candidate than as a governor that Youngkin can serve as a model for conservatives nationwide. 

As the first GOP governor of the Biden era, Youngkin has a chance to show that his party can address parental revolt, public safety, and economic insecurity in effective ways. 

He can define the conservative agenda in the coming year, so that Republicans have an example to point to, and a North Star to follow.

The agenda begins with education. Parents were at the center of Youngkin’s campaign. And so, they should be at the center of his administration. Youngkin says that he supports charter schools, high curricular standards, and more spending on teachers and on special education. He pledged to ban “Critical Race Theory” from public school instruction. He should also promote “academic transparency” by requiring parental review and opt-in for hot-button curricula.

Youngkin says he will place public safety officers in schools across the state. This initiative should become the basis for a wide-ranging effort to bolster state and local police forces, with an eye toward community policing and the reassuring presence of cops on the beat.

Youngkin’s economic agenda must also keep parents in mind. He would like to double the state’s standard deduction, eliminate the grocery tax, and suspend the gas tax. 

All this would ease the burden on taxpayers suffering from a rising cost of living. 

Youngkin also says he’d like to encourage innovation and job-creation throughout the state. One way might be to take the lead in “strategic decoupling” from China, by convincing manufacturers of critically important goods to re-shore facilities in the commonwealth. 

Over a decade ago, I accompanied then-Senator George Allen on a tour of a Virginia-based semiconductor plant. Youngkin could make room for more of them.

The danger for the governor-elect is that he will involve himself in national culture war issues over vaccine and mask mandates. Youngkin ought to be wary of intruding on local control and private-sector decision-making, even if it might win him fans among certain parts of the right. 

It ought to be remembered that Youngkin’s populism was actually popular and common-sensical—unlike some of the anti-elitism and suspicion of expert opinion that one encounters across the political spectrum these days.

It would be a missed opportunity if Youngkin frittered away his resounding victory on scattershot culture war fights that generate headlines but do not improve life for Virginians in the real world.

I have a feeling, maybe it’s just a hope, that Youngkin will be a serious chief executive in demanding times who shows his fellow Republicans not just how to win, but how to govern. And all with a smile and a fleece.

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