"See you soon": Wait, is Trump going to Virginia to campaign for Youngkin?

AP Photo/Jason Behnken

I read this and initially thought Maggie Haberman must be right. Trump is trolling, winking at the fact that Youngkin is desperate to keep him away from Virginia in the home stretch. Terry McAuliffe has spent weeks trying to scare Youngkin-curious suburban voters by screeching that the GOP nominee is another Trump in a fleece vest and a better haircut. Literally the last thing Youngkin would want while voters there are making up their minds is for Trump to blow into town and remind the state’s Democratic majority why they dislike him.

The “see you soon” in the statement below is just a sly, self-deprecating little joke.

But then I thought: Wait. Donald Trump doesn’t do “self-deprecating.”

Is he actually planning to show up in Virginia before Tuesday?

“See you soon” can’t be trolling because that would require Trump to accept on some level that he’s unpopular in Virginia and that Youngkin doesn’t want him there and his mind just isn’t equipped to do that. It could be a generic aside, with “see you soon” meaning nothing more than “maybe I’ll do an event there someday to say hi to my fans.”

Or he could be thinking it would actually be helpful for him to hit the trail for Youngkin. But he can’t possibly believe that. Can he?

When I saw his statement I thought back to the rally that was held for Youngkin outside Richmond a few weeks ago. Steve Bannon was the star guest in attendance but an even bigger star phoned in:

On Thursday, Youngkin sidestepped when asked if he’d like Trump to campaign for him in person.

“The person that is going to be campaigning here for the next two-and-a-half weeks is Glenn Youngkin,” he said. “I’m on the ballot.”

For his part, though, Trump mused about campaigning with Youngkin.

“We’ll have to do one together, where we’re all live together,” he said during the call-in. “I sort of like that idea.”

Is it possible he’s convinced himself that holding a last-second rally for Youngkin would actually be a good idea?

Sure, for various reasons. Start with the fact that he’s congenitally incapable of believing he could ever be a political liability, which is why he continues to cling to the idea that last year’s election was rigged. He probably also watched Biden campaign for McAuliffe last night and felt jealous that the leader of the Democratic Party was (reluctantly) welcomed in Virginia while the leader of the Republican Party is being asked to stay away. Meanwhile he’s looking at the polls and realizing that this race is surprisingly tight and Youngkin stands a real chance to win. If Republicans are about to experience an earth-shaking electoral victory, a narcissist like Trump obviously would want to position himself to take maximum credit. That means showing up. After all, if they win without him, notes Haberman, that makes it marginally easier to argue that the GOP needs a post-Trump strategy to win elections. Think Youngkin or Ron DeSantis, traditional politicians who’ve positioned themselves as sufficiently MAGA-friendly to hold populists *and* center-righties together. Trump would be yesterday’s news.

Besides, in all likelihood the worst-case scenario for Trump if he holds a rally in Arlington this weekend is that Youngkin loses by a few points and the GOP still gets to claim a moral victory, having cut Biden’s 10-point margin in 2020 way down. The best-case scenario is that Youngkin pulls off the upset and Trump gets to say “It was me, me, me!”

The reality is that Virginia Republicans are jazzed to turn out and vote for Youngkin whether Trump shows up or not. A new poll of Virginia today that has McAuliffe up a point found “Republicans are increasingly more enthusiastic about voting, with 80% of Republican likely voters indicating they are very enthusiastic, compared to 65% of Democrats.” Fully 97 percent of GOPers back Youngkin, up from 90 percent in that same pollster’s last survey. There’s little Trump can do to motivate GOP turnout that Joe Biden’s failures this summer and fall haven’t done already. There’s a lot Trump can do to motivate *Democrats* who are otherwise inclined to sit this election out.

My strong suspicion is that Trump really does want to go to Virginia and really doesn’t see why it’d be a bad idea for the party (or doesn’t care) but has everyone in his political orbit telling him “NO, NO, NO, NO.” I bet Team Youngkin is working the phones frantically to his inner circle, begging them to convince Trump to stay home. But will it work? This statement from the former president’s comms guy makes it sound like something’s in the works — but without saying when:

“When appropriate.” That tweet looks to me like a trial balloon, to get MAGA excited so that Trump can say to his skeptical aides, “See? Everyone wants me there!” The smarter play to maximize Youngkin’s chances while also satisfying Trump’s ego would be to have some sort of victory rally after Tuesday if the GOP pulls the upset. Youngkin might even like the idea, as being on a stage with Trump basking in glory when it doesn’t cost him anything will give him some extra MAGA cred in case he’s thinking of running for president someday. We’ll see.

Your exit quotation comes from the happiest man in Virginia today.