During the pandemic, The Wall Street Journal published a famous “debate” between a dog and a cat over whether workers should return to the office.
The dog was against: “We need to balance the economy against the extremely valid concerns about public health and protecting lives. And walks. We need think about all of the walks. And ball.”
The cat was for getting people out of the house: “Enough is enough.”
To be fair (and balanced), cats always think “enough is enough.” Unless you’re talking about naps and food, in which case there is never enough, but let’s not get distracted.
We’re hearing once again that major Republican donors would really, really, really like Gov. Glenn Youngkin to save them from Donald Trump and whatever electoral disaster that would lead to — either Trump losing or Trump winning. Bob Costa of CBS News outlined that pressure in a recent op-ed in The Washington Post, which mentioned how some have dubbed Youngkin “Hamlet on the James” for his supposed indecision.
As both a student of Shakespeare and a student of politics, I think that’s unfair to both Hamlet and Youngkin. Even Polonius noted that Hamlet had a certain method to his madness, and I would not call Youngkin indecisive. Realistically, he can’t do anything until after Virginia’s legislative elections on Nov. 7. For another, another Shakespeare quote applies, this one from Richard III before the Battle of Bosworth Field: “I have set my life upon a cast and I will stand the hazard of the die.” That didn’t work so well for Richard; we’ll see how the General Assembly elections go for Youngkin. On the one hand, it’s hard for me to see Youngkin having much national traction if Republicans don’t win control of the General Assembly. On the other hand, it’s hard for me to see a party nominating a candidate under indictment for multiple felonies and Republicans appear to be headed toward just that outcome — so maybe Youngkin would still have national appeal even if he fails to flip the legislature. Who knows?
I am struck by this passage in the Costa piece: “As the clock ticks, those who know Youngkin have referred me to a term straight out of Harvard Business School, where Youngkin earned an MBA: ‘optionality.’ It is a term, they say, Youngkin has used while governing and when discussing his political career. He likes having options without any obligation to choose one.”
I like to be helpful, so I’m here today to offer Youngkin some options. In the spirit of The Wall Street Journal’s dog vs. cat commentaries, I’ll offer two separate commentaries: one urging Youngkin to run, another urging him not to. You can decide which one is more compelling. Maybe Youngkin will, too.
Run, Glenn, run!
Republicans need someone on a white horse to save them from Trump. You like horses. Here’s your chance to saddle up. More seriously, your party is in danger: No one in the field right now shows any chance of stopping Trump. Not a single one of them has excited voters, and it’s certainly not for lack of trying. I’m not sure which is worse from a Republican perspective: the prospect that Trump would lose next November or that he would win. If the former, we get four more years of a Democrat who Americans clearly aren’t keen on, but who Trump makes looks a lot better. If Trump were to somehow win, then the whole country might be in grave danger. This is not a man who believes in the norms of American democracy. Can our system of government survive another four years of an indicted narcissist who the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff intimated is a “wannabe dictator”? Republicans desperately need someone who is a normal conservative.
You have the advantage of being a fresh face, and Americans always love things that are new. You have the advantage of being someone who might be able to unite all wings of the Republican Party — you certainly did in Virginia. And you have the advantage of big donors who are begging for the opportunity to write checks to fund your campaign. What else do you need?
We all know in our hearts that sometime next year Trump is going to get convicted of something. Do Republicans, the party of law and order, really want to nominate a convicted felon? Or even just someone whose other criminal cases may drag on for years and pose a constitutional crisis? Many Republicans may have lost their sanity but this is a temporary condition. At some point next year, Republicans are going to come to their senses and realize that nominating Trump isn’t in their best interests. You have to help them come to that realization, because no other Republican has so far. And even Democrats understand another reality: If you — a mainstream Republican with an upbeat personality, not scowls promising “retribution” — were the nominee, you’d beat Joe Biden the same way that Keith Moon used to beat the drums for The Who: overwhelmingly. All we have to do is look at the Roanoke College polls, which consistently show you’re far more popular in Virginia than Biden is — and this is a state that voted for him. It’s not clear that other Republicans could.
Your party needs you. Your country would want you. It’s almost your duty to run. Yes, you’ll take some flak, and there will be naysayers and critics — and Trump will call you lots of awful names. That’s his juvenile way. A jury of his peers will take care of him. Most Republicans, though, will come to love you — once they get to know you, and there’s plenty of money available to make that introduction with a big splash. It doesn’t even matter if you don’t flip the General Assembly this fall; nobody outside Virginia cares about that. And don’t think you have time to wait for 2028. That’s a long way off. Once you leave the governorship, people will forget about you. Other candidates will rise up. And if Trump is president, who knows if the nation as we know it will still be standing in 2028? If that prediction proves too dire, this one isn’t: A Trump win in 2024 would sully any Republican nominee for 2028. That would be a Democratic year for sure. As the saying goes, he who hesitates is lost. Seize the moment now. Make your announcement in Shenandoah, Iowa, and draw the connections between Iowa and Virginia. So, what do you say?
Don’t do it, Glenn.
Plug your ears with wax and don’t listen to the sirens. They would only lead you to humiliation and disaster. Just because a lot of big donors want an alternative to Trump means absolutely nothing. There are already lots of alternatives to Trump — it’s not as if the marketplace lacks a choice. The problem is that Republicans don’t seem to want an alternative, and a first-term governor with a skimpy national profile isn’t going to change that, no matter how much money he has behind him. As a former private equity executive, you certainly ought to understand the realities of the marketplace.
Here’s some political reality: If somebody’s going to stop Trump, Republicans need fewer candidates, not more. What anti-Trump Republicans need is a one-on-one race. Even then, Trump is still polling over 50% in most polls of likely Republican voters. What makes you think that any of them would abandon him to support you when they haven’t abandoned him for better-known figures?
Here’s another political reality: It’s too late, in practical terms, for any new candidate to get into the race. You like data, so here’s some data for you: Late-entering candidates don’t win. Fred Thompson thought he’d be a box office smash when he got into the Republican nomination contest in September 2007. He was soon gone. You can look up the list. In the modern era, every major party nominee has gotten into the race early on. Don’t think you’ll be able to change that history. Here’s an even more practical concern: Deadlines are already coming up to make the ballot in some primaries. The deadline for Nevada is Oct. 16. The deadline for New Hampshire is Oct. 27. How do you expect to do this if you’re not even on the ballot in two key early states?
Ralph Waldo Emerson coined a useful phrase: “If you strike at a king, you must kill him.” He didn’t mean that literally, of course, but the point is if you challenge Trump, you have to beat him. A smile and a red vest won’t do it. Liz Cheney did a masterful job explaining why Trump is a threat to the republic and you see what Republicans did to her. Chris Christie is trying to do the same thing now and he’s getting nowhere. If you get into the race, people are not going to magically rally to you. You’d have to go after Trump in a way you’ve never had to do before — and that goes against the persona that has made you popular among Republicans. This is a no-win scenario for you. The only scenario in which you could get the nomination would be if Trump were already out or falling precipitously with no alternative in sight, and neither of those things is happening right now, nor likely to happen.
The best thing for you is to stick to the job you’ve got. Do the best you can to get a Republican majority in Virginia this fall. As popular as you are, even that may not be possible. If you can’t flip the General Assembly, what’s the rationale for you as a national candidate right now? If you have your eyes on the White House, your best bet is to wait. You’re young yet. Just sit back. Let Trump lead the party to an electoral disaster in 2024. That eliminates Trump and also will leave the party in desperate search of new leaders. That’s your opening. You’ll leave office in January 2026 — just in time to start campaigning for Republican candidates in the 2026 midterms and building a national organization for 2028. Don’t sully yourself with a quixotic last-minute bid in 2024 that’s doomed to fail.
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So, there you have it, the dog vs. cat equivalents of whether Youngkin should run or not. Which argument is more persuasive?
Coming on Friday
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