Youngkin tweet undermining the rule of law over Trump indictment betrayed his own winning formula

I and many others hoped Youngkin’s victory was a template for a new, better and more honorable post-Trump GOP. The governor unraveled that Friday morning in just 73 words.

June 13, 2023 11:12 am

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin held a get-out-the-vote rally for Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in Alpharetta in 2022. Youngkin campaigned for Republican candidates in battleground states like Georgia. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

Is Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin so obsessed with pandering to his party’s Trumpist core — one he is careful not to romance too openly — that he feels the need to undermine the rule of law in defense of the first ex-president ever to be charged with federal felonies?

A tweet from Youngkin’s gubernatorial account Friday was shameful because it imputes partisan perfidy to a detailed, credible and damning 37-count indictment handed up by a federal grand jury, and in doing so, he drew a bizarre parallel to parents’ rights.

Even though he never mentioned former President Donald Trump by name in the tweet, Youngkin fell in line with partisan acolytes such as South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, U.S. Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, and unsuccessful Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, and even Trump’s fiercest primary rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, all eager to score points with Trump’s legion of MAGA activists. Some vowed to pardon Trump if they win the presidency. Lake implied armed domestic conflict could result.

It’s beyond disappointing for a governor who ran and won two years ago as a sunny, hopeful and pragmatic Republican in the mold of Ronald Reagan, calmly brushing aside shrill Democratic assertions that Youngkin was a closet Trumper. 

Now, we’re left to wonder: Were the Democrats on to something?

Still new to the political game, Youngkin may nurture the delusion that he can have his cake and eat it, too. He’s level-headed Uncle Glenn in zip-up vests bearing his campaign logo and talking up commonsense reforms one moment. Then he’s  cynically titillating GOP hardliners with discredited tropes about a “two-tiered justice system” afflicting a filthy-rich ex-president and, in some mystifying corollary, parents of public school pupils.

Think of it: the loudest elements of the “law-and-order” party now falsely assert that justice on a national scale is a tool of deep-state leftists intent on persecuting conservatives, all because a former president with a record of gratuitous, habitual lying is held to account.

Their attacks are bereft of substance, predicated mostly on what-aboutism: “What about President Joe Biden, who was found to have unsecured classified documents in his Delaware home dating to his vice presidency?”

The difference so far is there is no suggestion Biden tried to hide and lie about the documents to the National Archives or to a grand jury, as Trump is alleged to have done repeatedly. And if the Biden classified documents investigation by special counsel Robert Hur finds incriminating evidence against the president, I am confident that he, too, will be (and should be) charged.

Some Republicans have refused to go along with the orchestrated gaslighting, including former governors and now Trump primary rivals Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and Chris Christie of New Jersey as well as Trump’s own attorney general, Bill Barr.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who took himself out of the presidential race recently, said in an interview: “I’m actually surprised the other candidates running against him for president are not more aggressive about calling [it] out for what it is. It’s a huge problem — and mostly, it’s a huge problem for the Republican Party.”

Youngkin also could have also followed the more discreet example of other GOP leaders such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky or Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota and just kept silent on Trump’s indictment.

It was an especially dumb tweet in Virginia, where Trump lost both presidential bids and where voters punished Republicans who sought statewide office throughout Trump’s candidacy and his White House years.

In 2021, I and many others hoped Youngkin’s victory was a template for a new, better and more honorable post-Trump GOP. The governor unraveled that Friday morning in just 73 words.

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Bob Lewis
Bob Lewis

Bob Lewis covered Virginia government and politics for 20 years for The Associated Press. Now retired from a public relations career at McGuireWoods, he is a columnist for the Virginia Mercury. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow on Mastodon: @[email protected]