Glenn Youngkin: I won't stop local governments that want to impose COVID mandates

With this, the governor-elect will challenge the land-speed record for traveling from populist hero to RINO sellout.

But he’s being consistent. When he says he doesn’t support mandates, he means mandates of both the Democratic and Republican varieties. He won’t order masking or vaccination from the governor’s office but he also won’t order local governments not to issue their own orders to that effect. He’s not Gavin Newsom or Gretchen Whitmer but he’s not Greg Abbott or Ron DeSantis either.

Which seems like a good lane to be in.

After his inaugural ceremony on Jan. 15, Youngkin said he will not mandate masks and vaccines but–unlike some Republican governors–he will not attempt to block localities from implementing their own requirements.

“Localities are going to have to make decisions the way the law works and that is going to be up to individual decisions but, again, from the governor’s office, you won’t see mandates from me,” Youngkin clarified in a one-on-one interview over the weekend…

To date, Gov. Ralph Northam has mandated vaccinations or weekly testing for state employees. Although he supports requirements from the private sector and local governments, Northam has stopped short of ordering vaccine mandates for teachers and healthcare workers at the state level as some other Democratic governors have…

Many Republican governors have joined calls to challenge Biden’s plan. When asked if he would do the same during a gubernatorial debate, Youngkin said, “I don’t believe that President Biden has the authority to dictate to everyone that we have to take the vaccine.”

Local control is a fine conservative solution to the dilemma of different communities having different preferences. If your county commissioner or school board is being too heavy-handed (or not heavy-handed enough) with COVID protocols, you can throw the bums out. Youngkin’s hands-off policy should mean a reprieve for unvaccinated state employees who don’t want to comply with Northam’s rules, too. If the new governor means what he says, those anti-vax workers will no longer be under pressure to get vaccinated come January.

How MAGA fans will receive this decision is unclear to me. Youngkin is resolving the culture war over vaccines and masks by letting local communities chart their own paths, which should ease left/right tensions. In a Trumpist GOP, though, declining to participate in the culture war isn’t typically seen as wise or virtuous. It’s seen as cowardly. The point is to “fight,” not to stop people from fighting. To have power and not to use it to impose your own side’s preferences on the enemy normally would be viewed as dereliction of duty.

Maybe Youngkin will get a pass because he’s still in his honeymoon period, having just delivered the biggest Republican electoral victory in five years.

The day after he upset Terry McAuliffe in Virginia, Patrick Frey wrote that he couldn’t stomach the comparisons between Youngkin and DeSantis. Superficially, they made sense: Populist enthusiasm for both candidates is sky high, apparent proof that more traditional Republicans can galvanize the Trumpist base and ride it to major wins. Youngkin and DeSantis each seem to prove the proposition that the GOP can not only win without Trump but might actually perform better without him by appealing to Trump-wary swing voters.

Even so, said Frey, Youngkin and DeSantis are fundamentally different characters.

Ultimately, my litmus test for a Republican is: would you support the next coup attempt? If you’re a senator, will you vote to object to a fair election? If you’re a governor, will you send an alternate slate of electors to Congress just because your preferred candidate lost?

I don’t think Glenn Youngkin would. I bet Ron DeSantis would.

Another misreading, in my view, is the notion that Ron DeSantis is Glenn Youngkin but potentially on a national level. In other words, if Youngkin can win in Virginia, then his twin DeSantis can win in 2024. I think this is wrong, because I don’t see DeSantis and Youngkin as the same type of candidate, at all. DeSantis is a far more transparent example of the “hey let’s enact dumb policies to make Trumpy populists go rah rah” style of pandering populist politics. He has signed blatantly unconstitutional restrictions on free speech, platformed blatant misinformation on COVID on the same stage he occupied, prevented businesses such as cruise lines from requiring vaccinations from their customers, and (here’s one people forget) telling Laura Ingraham the Chauvin jury voted guilty because they were scared of a mob. DeSantis has never failed to pander to the lowest common denominator in the GOP and I find him revolting. Glenn Youngkin he ain’t.

I thought of Frey’s point when I watched this clip of DeSantis that same day. It’s a small thing but it’s hard to imagine Youngkin grandstanding with a “Brandon” jab at Biden:

Youngkin’s insistence on local control over mandates is a more substantive difference with DeSantis. Both men are vaccinated and both endorse the vaccine but DeSantis has barred local governments from mandating shots for their workers and even barred private employers from mandating vaccines for their patrons, an obvious play to stay on the good side of anti-vaxxers before the 2024 primaries. More recently he’s pushed for a bill to make sure that workers are eligible for unemployment benefits if they lose their jobs for refusing to comply with Biden’s vax-or-test mandate. He’s prosecuting the COVID culture war for his side. Youngkin, on the other hand, is washing his hands of that culture war. Maybe that’s a principled difference, maybe it’s a simple function of him having to govern a Biden +10 state instead of a Trump +3 one like DeSantis. But it’s a meaningful distinction.

Here he is stating his position over the weekend. His state is 10th in the country as measured by the share of the population that’s fully vaccinated, by the way. Virginia should be in good shape for the coming winter wave.