Premium

Is Glenn Youngkin running for president?

AP Photo/Steve Helber

Let’s just say that he’s keeping his options open.

But then, isn’t everyone? Just in case you-know-who decides that he’d rather finish out his 70s playing golf than governing the country.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin is preparing to take a step into national politics by launching a pair of new political groups ahead of the midterm election.

Youngkin’s new operation will allow him to wade into gubernatorial races across the country on behalf of GOP candidates. Youngkin can also use the apparatus to target a pair of Democratic House members in Virginia whom Republicans are looking to unseat.

While the recently elected Youngkin has yet to declare any interest in running for president in 2024, his decision to set up a political vehicle is a natural one for a politician looking to expand his brand and forge alliances nationally. Youngkin made inroads in Democratic-leaning suburban areas in last year’s Virginia election by focusing on coronavirus restrictions and education — issues he conceivably could inject into races outside his home state…

It is unclear which out-of-state races Youngkin will choose to target. Thirty-six states are holding governor’s contests this year, including 16 that feature Democratic incumbents. People familiar with Youngkin’s plans say he is looking at several ways of engaging, including through donating money and holding campaign-style events.

Help other candidates, build a reputation as a kingmaker nationally, earn favors, then parlay those favors into endorsements in 2024. DeSantis has begun to play that game too. Nikki Haley’s been doing it for months, most notably backing Nancy Mace over her Trump-endorsed primary challenger.

The temptation for a newbie politician is to bide his time, build a record as governor, get reelected, and then make his move to national prominence. That’s the DeSantis M.O. But Youngkin doesn’t have that luxury: Virginia’s governors are limited to nonconsecutive terms, which means he can’t run for reelection in 2025. (He could in 2029.) If he waits until 2028 to run for president, in other words, he’ll be old news, having been out of office for three years.

2024 is “now or never.” But then, realistically, it’s “now or never” for DeSantis too. If DeSantis waits until 2028, he’ll have been out of office as governor for two years. Some other young up-and-coming politician will be the hot new thing on the right. As much as DeSantis and Youngkin would prefer not to go toe-to-toe with Trump in 2024, that’s their only window realistically.

But if I’m right, how would that work logistically?

I don’t think Youngkin could beat Trump head-to-head. I think DeSantis has a slight chance of doing so if he runs up the score in his reelection bid this fall. But he probably has no chance if Youngkin also runs, as Youngkin will end up siphoning off some of the “anyone but Trump” votes that would otherwise have gone to DeSantis in a one-on-one race. I’d guess that a Trump vs. DeSantis vs. Youngkin contest would end with Trump winning easily with 60 percent of the vote or so, DeSantis pulling a respectable 25 percent of populists who want to try the new guy, and Youngkin winning the most centrist 15 percent. Whereas a Trump vs. DeSantis race could be a toss-up, with DeSantis consolidating the moderates and maybe convincing a few Trump leaners to come his way once they’re convinced that he stands a legit chance of pulling the upset.

And that makes me wonder: What if Youngkin ends up passing on a presidential run and getting behind DeSantis instead? If he helped bring centrists and suburbanites into DeSantis’s populist coalition and their combined force ended up dethroning Trump, we’d be all set up for a DeSantis/Youngkin ticket. Which would be a pretty formidable ticket.

Not as formidable as Youngkin/DeSantis, perhaps, as I think Youngkin may be the most “electable” major Republican official in the country right now. But clearly the base would want DeSantis as the top guy, with Youngkin onboard as veep to bring all the normies who broke for Biden last time back into the tent.

Anyway, I’m verrrrry interested to see if Youngkin and DeSantis opt to get involved in Georgia’s gubernatorial race this year. Trump is obviously all-in on defeating Brian Kemp there and won’t be changing his mind if Kemp ends up defeating David Perdue in the primary. Will the governors of Virginia and Florida ride to Kemp’s rescue with endorsements or will they steer clear of Georgia so as not to piss off Trump? Stay tuned.