Hope. It’s not a word that young Virginia Republicans have gotten to use for most of their lives. In fact, for my good friends in the College Republican branches, its a word we’ve never really gotten to use. Most of us started to be involved, at earliest, in 2017 – the year Ralph Northam blew out Ed Gillespie and the party lost nearly all of it’s Northern Virginia-area delegate seats. In 2018, the party nominated Cory Stewart for the Senate election. Stewart, who ran on keeping Confederate monuments up, lost by 17 points. 2019 saw the party lose another six delegate seats and two in the state senate – that lost us the majority in both bodies.
2020 wasn’t much better. Former President Donald Trump and Senate nominee Daniel Gade both lost by double-digits. But we thought that 2021 was maybe a turning point. After dealing with what seemed like another state party screw-up in our nomination convention, we were given a beacon of light as young Republicans in Virginia: Glenn Youngkin, an outsider untainted by previous Virginia GOP infighting. Someone who had actively tried to recruit college and young Republicans to his campaign. Someone who had the personal wealth to deal with the McAuliffe machine. And at first, it seemed to be working. Limited public polling showed him within striking distance. But after July, it seems clear we were given a paper tiger.
Youngkin has seemingly stopped listening to his advisors from Axiom. Considering he’s given them well over $300,000 according to VPAP records, that seems like a good way to burn money. And it also explains the messaging path Youngkin has been on recently. Instead of taking what would likely be the advice of his advisors to focus on the economy and rebuilding from COVID, Youngkin has gone the complete other direction.
This past month, Youngkin has been on an “election integrity” kick. From being recorded suggesting that Trump could “maybe” be reinstated by the courts (newsflash, he can’t), to attending an election integrity rally at Liberty University that was closed to the press. The Liberty event was so closed that Youngkin’s staff didn’t even post a thing on social media about it. In a state that President Biden won by 10 points, there was no such thing as election fraud in Virginia. Trump just got his butt handed to him in the state thanks to losing the suburbs of the state by massive margins. Messaging on “election integrity” in a general election won’t win him the voters he needs, and his recent focus on that topic shows that he may be listening more to his billionaire buddies than his advisors.
That’s a massive problem for Virginia Republicans. Not only does that mean there has been no consistent messaging, but it has dragged down some of our lower ballot campaigns as well. It shows something that both Winsome Sears and Jason Miyares went to door knock with Harold Pyon in the competitive 40th district instead of joining Youngkin at Liberty. The groups are not united, and its a massive problem for the campaigns as a whole that’s been started by Youngkin.
The issues with the past month are not just limited to Youngkin himself. There are issues inside his campaign as well. Rumors of sexism and issues of keeping paid staff have come up from underground this past month. Not only has the campaign lost double digit-numbers of staffers, several of them claimed that senior staff mistreated women.
A now-former Youngkin staffer I spoke to mentioned a time where a friend of hers was “screamed at and treated like trash” by a district director. That staffer, who is a woman, is no longer with the campaign. The director was also reportedly moved positionally in a reshuffling. The staffer I spoke to also said she was mistreated and yelled at by other members of the campaign’s leadership. While this is only the events of two now former staffers, it starts to show a pattern: that the deluge of staff may be in part, due to mistreatment of female staffers on the campaign. This needs to be fixed rapidly if Youngkin is to have a stable campaign.
There have also been criticisms that Youngkin’s hiring practices have brought in too many out-of-state individuals. Critics inside GOP camps believe that Youngkin’s people don’t know Virginia well enough to run a winning campaign there, and it’s showing in his messaging. Some have also complained about the campaign structure of hiring on a county-by-county basis. This means that instead of running an area or a group of counties, one person is the director of one county. This has led to miscommunications and issues around the staff, as a clear, cohesive message is unavailable to the staff.
Youngkin is Blowing It
It’s important to put out that in publicly-released polls so far, Youngkin has only been down by five points at most. That’s not an insurmountable margin, but it’s why I’m personally so frustrated as one of those young Virginia Republicans. Youngkin was given all the keys to the castle, and he had an opportunity to run a strong, excellent race.
If he wants to win, Glenn Youngkin needs to get his campaign in order, or else he is going to get rolled come November. In May, Youngkin made Virginia Republicans believe in him. Now, he needs to do it again.