Republican Glenn Youngkin won the 2021 Virginia gubernatorial race over his Democratic opponent by two points. Just a year ago, President Joe Biden won the state by a margin of ten points over former President Trump.
Virginia is labeled a bellwether state, as it gives politicians and their respective advisors a look into how voters actually believe the two main parties are affecting their daily lives just one year after the presidential election. As Trump was handily disavowed by the suburban populations of Fairfax and Prince William counties, Youngkin did not campaign with him—this approach clearly worked out.
Since Trump’s election in 2016, he has ruled over the Republican party with an iron fist. Many have dubbed the new-age GOP, “The Party of Trump.” To step out of line could mean losing support from the former president and his loyal Republican base, and then losing the Republican primary.
Youngkin did a fantastic job of accepting Trump’s nomination and not alienating a part of the Trump base, but simultaneously keeping an arm’s distance away from Trump at all times. It remains true that Donald Trump is the most individually influential politician in the world, and this is mainly because he is so divisive.
Republicans are better suited to hammering away on their usually effective talking points on Critical Race Theory, crime, and abortion. Youngkin toed the line, and the win for the CEO and businessman over the career politician and former governor in McAuliffe had political pundits from all across the aisle proclaiming that this was the way for the Republican party to win big in future elections.
However, this analysis may not be completely accurate. Firstly, Donald Trump will not allow this. Trump got into politics for one reason, to be the center of attention, and the fact that every pundit on MSNBC, CNN, and, most importantly, FOX News said that Trump’s exclusion from the race (he never campaigned with Youngkin) was a driving factor in the political newcomer’s victory will be a problem. This isn’t to say that Democrats aren’t fighting an uphill battle in 2022 though; for Republicans to believe that Donald Trump will sit idly by, constrained to only speaking to his core followers and being demeaned as “unimportant” is unconscionable.
Additionally, the Republican party cannot win close statewide and national elections without the Trump base. Two-thirds of the modern-day Republican party would like to see Trump run in 2024, and as most people’s interactions with politics are surface-level and very highlighted on national politics. Trump is still the kingpin, and Republican candidates need his support.