Can Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin be the Republican who finally topples Trump?

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“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin speaks to an audience.

What’s happening

White-knight season has officially begun.

In what’s become a perennial rite in U.S. presidential politics, the chattering classes are once again chattering about an eleventh-hour candidate riding to the rescue of a major party otherwise poised to pick a flawed nominee.

Right now, that nominee-in-waiting is former President Donald Trump, who leads his closest Republican rival by a seemingly insurmountable 46-point margin despite facing 91 criminal charges across four jurisdictions.

Enter the party’s latest would-be savior: Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin — a sunny, 6-foot-5 former college basketball star turned private equity executive who has been turning heads since he defeated former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in 2021. Recent Virginia polls show that Youngkin is several points more popular than President Biden, in a state Biden won by 10.

Interest in Youngkin as a potential 2024 contender has risen after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — the GOP elite’s previous favorite — flopped in the opening rounds of his campaign.

In August, the Washington Post reported that right-wing media mogul Rupert Murdoch, a former DeSantis supporter, had twice encouraged Youngkin to run. And CBS News’ Robert Costa revealed last week that “some of the biggest Republican donors in the country” will try to draft Youngkin at a two-day retreat this month in Virginia Beach.

“I’d welcome Youngkin putting his oar in,” William Barr, former Trump attorney general, told Costa. “I believe he would draw serious support.”

Why there’s debate

As much as some rich Republicans might wish for a reprieve from a third straight Trump nomination, a late challenge would be a steep uphill climb for Youngkin.

The first candidate filing deadline is Oct. 15 in Nevada. South Carolina’s deadline follows on Halloween. Youngkin has indicated that he won’t make a final decision until after the Nov. 7 Virginia state legislature elections, so he wouldn’t be on the ballot in two early contests — and he might miss deadlines in Alabama (Nov. 10) and Arkansas (Nov. 14) as well.

Then there’s the question of whether other Republican hopefuls would drop out and stop splitting the anti-Trump vote to make way for a relatively unfamiliar and untested alternative. The last time Yahoo News and YouGov included Youngkin in a GOP primary poll (December 2022), he barely registered, at 2%.

Still, proponents argue that a Trump conviction (or two, or three, or four) could change everything — and that the GOP needs to be prepared for that possibility.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley debates Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy onstage at a GOP debate.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley debates Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy in Simi Valley, Calif., on Sept. 27. (Eric Thayer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

What’s next

Democrats currently control the Virginia Senate; Republicans currently control the House. If Youngkin’s GOP wins full control this November, the governor would be more inclined — though hardly guaranteed — to launch a late-breaking White House bid.

“Supporters” would then have to “rush to collect signatures for him to get on the ballot in delegate-rich states,” according to Costa, while Youngkin would “make a play for Iowa and build a campaign with an eye on staying in until the convention.”

“He appears to be leaving the door open,” billionaire GOP donor Thomas Peterffy told Costa. “If Republicans win in Virginia, maybe we can talk him into it.”


Youngkin has a real record to run on...

“Youngkin could not have asked for better liftoff conditions: over 200,000 more people employed in the state since he took office 18 months ago ... record fundraising hauls; a personal-best 57 percent approval rating, which he achieved in a state that gives no special welcome to GOP politicians.” — Jill Lawrence, Bulwark

...and more mainstream appeal than DeSantis

“Bring Youngkin on, we say. ... An argument could be made that Youngkin in Virginia has [threaded] a very tricky needle when it comes to weaving a bigger and brighter Republican tent than the more sardonic and combative DeSantis.” — Editorial, Chicago Tribune

DeSantis still has more MAGA cred

“DeSantis just has a much stronger narrative of actual accomplishment, and more ideological activists invested in his candidacy. ... ‘More of a culture warrior than Scott with more charisma than DeSantis’ is a pundit’s theory, not a politician’s pitch.” — Ross Douthat of New York Times, on X, formerly known as Twitter

If Youngkin jumped in, he would only help Trump

“I’m just not convinced that the reason Trump is well ahead in the primary is because the race is missing the correct traditionally conservative governor who doesn’t freak out soccer moms. [So] once Youngkin jumps in, he will take 1 or 2 percent from everybody, and instead of the 43 percent of the Republican primary electorate being split among six major candidates ... it gets split up among seven.” — Jim Geraghty, National Review

Previous ‘white knights’ tell a cautionary tale

“Wes Clark was a political novice who lacked charisma and turned out to be gaffe prone. [Fred] Thompson, who last stood for election in 1996, was lazy and didn’t have the ‘fire in the belly.’ [And Rick] Perry was a charming rock star in Texas, but at the national level, his debate skills were, shall we say, lacking. ... Late entrants always bust. That’s because they are excessively hyped, and therefore, they get put through the wringer instantly. The smallest misstep is magnified 100-fold. Unless you’re perfect right out of the gate, you will fall flat.” — Matt Lewis, Daily Beast

Don’t count on a contested convention

“Trump will elect a fair number of delegates and they will not be people subject to switching. The famous battles in the past where conventions did make a difference is where people were prepared to switch or [be] freed, and Trump’s not going to do that. He would fight to the bitter end.” — John Bolton, former Trump national security adviser, to Washington Post

At least all the buzz boosts Youngkin’s ‘brand’

“It’s all well and good for Youngkin, who is term-limited and can draft off the chatter, keeping his name out there and giving him a reason to keep flirting with donors. ‘The Youngkin chatter feels planted and planned out because we’re so disappointed that DeSantis isn’t the clear alternative,’ said an Iowa operative. ‘It helps Youngkin’s brand.’” — Tara Palmeri, Puck