Glenn Youngkin, the Republican governor of Virginia who shocked the country when he beat former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe in the November 2021 gubernatorial race, is reportedly considering a presidential run in 2024 – and it almost makes sense.
Youngkin has good reason to seek alternative political office. He could also potentially tap into reported “Trump fatigue” that some say is simmering within the GOP, while simultaneously representing the anti-“woke” sentiment of Republicans and many independents across the country.
Having won the gubernatorial race off the back of a controversy over the teaching of critical race theory in Virginia schools, Youngkin is well-positioned as a possible America First, anti-“woke” candidate – but there’s a lot for him to think about.
What’s the Latest?
In late June, The Washington Post reported how Governor Youngkin flew to New York to meet with Republican megadonors in Manhattan – a move the news outlet said indicates he is considering a run for president in 2024.
“The day-long visit, which was not listed on Youngkin’s public calendar and included a trio of national TV interviews, comes as the new governor prepares to headline his first out-of-state political event since taking office, with an appearance next week in Nebraska,” The Post reported, adding that the Virginia governor has recently pivoted from talking about the plights of “Virginians” to the plights of “Americans” more widely.
Youngkin also told Brian Kilmeade on Fox News last month that he is “humbled” by requests from residents of his state to run for office, but that he has a “lot of work to do today in Virginia.” It’s a line used by every governor or incumbent elected official considering a presidential run.
This week, those reports became full-blown rumors. Axios reported how the Virginia governor is unlikely to make an announcement anytime soon but is exploring the possibility nonetheless. The outlet also noted that should Youngkin announce a run, his former position as CEO of private equity firm Carlyle Group may come under scrutiny.
Beyond possible scrutiny of his old career, however, the Virginia governor will likely be acutely aware that a 2024 presidential run will mean going head-to-head with arguably the most powerful force in electoral politics – former President Donald Trump.
Head-to-head With Trump
Throughout his campaign in Virginia, Youngkin successfully kept former President Trump at a distance without explicitly disavowing him. It allowed him to benefit from the Trump-supporting base in Virginia, while also picking up independent voters who may have been turned off by an explicitly pro-Trump and “MAGA” campaign.
Nonetheless, former President Donald Trump touted his support for Youngkin in the run-up to the election and dismissed reports from the legacy media suggesting the two men were at odds.
“The Fake News media, together with some of the perverts doing ads ad nauseam on primarily Fox (Fox shouldn’t take those ads!), are trying to create an impression that Glenn Youngkin and I are at odds and don’t like each other,” Trump said in a November 2021 statement.
Following his victory, Youngkin also appointed several former Trump administration officials to his inner team. Roughly one-third of Youngkin’s new hires since taking office have been from the Trump world, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Choosing to run in 2024 will naturally make Youngkin a target for Trump, posing an awkward situation for the governor’s new staffers – some of whom came from the Trump camp – and putting the two men at odds in precisely the way the media portrayed them in 2021. Presently allies kept at arm’s length, Youngkin and Trump could find themselves fighting for the same electorate within the GOP in the upcoming presidential primaries – while criticizing one another in ways that may be difficult to take back.
For Trump, the argument is simple; Youngkin couldn’t have won without his support, and his victory in Virginia was the product of a culture war and a fractured Democratic Party.
While the wrath of Trump’s base will unquestionably be unleashed on a Youngkin campaign, that doesn’t mean the Virginia governor won’t have a compelling case of his own.
Here is a candidate once considered a “traditional Republican” but now smeared by left-wing activists as a “racist.” Youngkin would be a serious candidate who already scored a win against critical race theory, without the direct support of Trump and without the baggage that comes with him.
Youngkin could position himself as a more “palatable” America First candidate – a Republican who can win over independent voters unhappy with the Democrats but heavily influenced by anti-Trump media coverage.
If this is a compelling offer for Republican voters, however, then Youngkin may also find himself up against another GOP heavyweight – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who beat former President Trump in the Western Conservative Summit straw poll last month.
Why It Could Make Sense
Youngkin will spend the rest of the year not just meeting with donors but considering whether he is really capable of beating Trump. He’ll also, no doubt, be considering the fact that his time in his current office will be up in 2026.
The state of Virginia does not allow governors to serve consecutive terms, meaning Youngkin would probably be forced to take a paid role in conservative-leaning media to remain in the Republican spotlight. A successful presidential campaign would immediately solve that problem.
Youngkin also wouldn’t necessarily be a shoo-in for the 2029 Virginia gubernatorial race, the next election for which he would qualify to run. Despite polls repeatedly indicating that former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe would handily beat Youngkin in 2021, the Republican campaign won by 63,480 votes. Without a presidential run, therefore, Youngkin’s political future is uncertain.
Should the Virginia governor successfully rally the big donors and find the heavyweight backing his campaign would need to take on Donald Trump in 2024, a presidential campaign could help him maintain his momentum and stay relevant.
Youngkin will, however, be aware of how much more brutal the 2024 Republican primary will be than in 2016. Faced with the possibility of hurting his reputation in the party for taking on Trump, Youngkin could also have his eye on the 2028 election. Not only would he avoid going up against Trump, but it would also give the outgoing governor two years after leaving office to run his presidential campaign without distraction.
Jack Buckby is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.