A primary lesson: How Ted Cruz helped Glenn Youngkin pull the fleece over Virginia voters’ eyes

A primary lesson: How Ted Cruz helped Glenn Youngkin pull the fleece over Virginia voters’ eyes

As we move from primary season to the general election, Democrats would do well to remember what happened in last year’s Virginia gubernatorial election and not get fleeced again. All the warning signs were there during the contest for the Republican nomination that Glenn Youngkin would go full MAGA once he became governor, even though he posed as a moderate, fleece-wearing suburban dad during the general election campaign .

And lest some extremist Republican candidate try to pull this trick again in the run-up to the November midterms, the lesson from Virginia is to look carefully at just what candidates did to win the GOP nomination—and who endorsed them.

In the case of Youngkin, the former co-CEO of The Carlyle Group private equity firm, he probably would not have won the nomination were it not for the endorsement of perhaps the second-most odious national figure in the GOP after Donald Trump. I’m talking about Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas (although there are certainly many other choices for that dubious distinction).

In January-February 2021, polls showed support for Youngkin among Republican voters to be in the single digits. But in those early polls, more than half of the GOP voters were undecided.

The front-runner in the polls at the time was state Sen. Amanda Chase, who attended the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally preceding the storming of the U.S. Capitol and had the endorsement of former Gen. Michael Flynn.  The Democratic-controlled state Senate censured Chase for “conduct unbecoming a senator” and “fomenting insurrection against the United States,” stripping her of her committee assignments.

Chase might very well have won a multi-candidate Republican primary. Instead, the state Republican Party made a controversial decision to hold a convention on May 8 instead of a primary. Local party leaders controlled the application process to become a delegate, and about 12,000 people ended up casting ballots at 37 locations statewide, using ranked-choice voting.

The state GOP establishment, including former governors George Allen and Bob McDonnell, backed Kirk Cox, the former state House speaker. The more conservative wing of the party split its support between Chase and Pete Snyder, a tech entrepreneur, both of whom supported Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 election.

Trump himself made no endorsement in the race.

And then Cruz stepped up to the plate to endorse Youngkin and vouch that he was a bona fide, religious-right conservative.  

On May 2, less than a week before the GOP convention, Cruz released this video endorsement of Youngkin.

After praising Youngkin as “a successful business leader”  and “political outsider,” Cruz cut to the chase by declaring:

Glenn is pro-life. He’s a gun owner. He’s a defender of religious liberty. If you’ve ever spent time with him, you know that he’s the real deal. A Christian, a family man who has his priorities straight, and a guy with common sense.”

Glenn is the best chance Republicans have of winning in Virginia this year.”

Cruz not only made the video, but then spent several days before the convention campaigning with Youngkin at “Win Win Glenn” events around the state with stops in such cities as Salem, Bedford, Lynchburg, Danville, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, and Chesterfield.

Youngkin ended up winning the nomination over Snyder by a margin of 55% to 45% in the sixth round of the ranked-choice convention voting.

And then” Cruz completely vanished from the general election campaign. A Google search showed no public campaign events featuring Cruz in Virginia, from the GOP convention on May 8 to Election Day on Nov. 2.

Youngkin obfuscated his hard-right positions on abortion rights and guns. Instead, he touted his business record and launched phony attacks regarding teaching critical race theory in schools and the need to ban sexually explicit books from school libraries, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved by the Nobel Prize-winning writer Toni Morrison.

A liberal activist released a video of Youngkin at a rally saying that he had to limit his anti-abortion comments on the campaign trail for fear of alienating independent voters, but that he would go “on offense” if he won the governor’s race and Republicans gained a majority in the House of Delegates,

The Democratic nominee, former governor Terry McAuliffe, did emphasize linking Youngkin to Trump. But apart from some fundraising appeals, did McAuliffe make much of the Cruz endorsement? Would it have made any difference in a close race that Youngkin ended up winning by a margin of 50.6% to 48.6%?

And then guess who showed up to congratulate Youngkin at his victory rally on Nov. 2?

Heidi & I, getting ready to celebrate with ⁦@GlennYoungkin⁩ & Suzanne. Looks like a HUGE victory tonight, for Virginia and for the entire country. pic.twitter.com/U3Yc3CosVU

— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) November 3, 2021

After Youngkin was inaugurated, he quickly went full MAGA, according to the Washington Monthly. He canceled school mask mandates and banned the teaching of “critical race theory.” 

Republicans now control the lower House of Delegates, but Democrats retain a fragile 21-19 majority in the Senate, which can block the most extreme proposals. However, there is one conservadem, and any tie would be broken by the Republican lieutenant governor. The state Senate is up for election in 2023.

And Cruz still has Youngkin’s back. After an Arlington resident expressed disapproval that Youngkin showed up without a mask at a supermarket for an event in early February, Cruz rushed to Twitter to defend his friend. 

Angry screaming Leftists…. Dem Karens want to tell you how to live your life. And they’ll fire you, cancel you, or scream at you if you don’t obey. https://t.co/bZu4MURwcb

— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) February 4, 2022

The lesson: Democratic candidates have to confront their Republican challengers and not let them use Youngkin’s strategy of hiding their real agenda. And that includes exposing the endorsers who brought them to the dance. 

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