Is Glenn Youngkin the GOP's dark horse white knight Trump alternative?

The Virginia governor has played coy, but some Republican insiders are eyeing him as a viable 2024 presidential candidate

Glenn Youngkin at campaign rally
(Image credit: Photo by Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images)

Speaking on Wednesday with Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo, Glenn Youngkin tried his best to play it coy. "I've said over and over again how humbling it is to even talk about my name" in the context of a potential 2024 presidential run, the first-term Republican governor of Virginia said, while insisting that he remained focused on his home state and its upcoming legislative elections. "I am not paying attention to the filing deadlines" for early upcoming primary races, Youngkin claimed, emphasizing instead the "conservative common-sense policies" he argued would help Republicans keep the state House and flip its Senate. But in spite of being asked directly whether he was "considering jumping into the 2024 race," at no point did Youngkin explicitly rule out tossing his hat into a crowded GOP primary field intent on toppling party front runner, former President Donald Trump.

For months, Youngkin's name has burbled on the lips of a growing segment of the GOP donor class who, "panicked about their current choices, are holding back 2024 money with the long-shot dream of luring an alternative" to Trump "at the last minute," Axios reported. But is this former private equity executive and relative political neophyte really the answer to the never-Trump Republicans' prayers?

What the commentators said

"While the Republican donor community and the Republican elite is excited by Youngkin, the GOP base is in a different place," according to one party insider who spoke with Axios. While 57 percent of Virginians approve of Youngkin's job performance as governor according to a late-July Morning Consult survey, a new poll by Roanoke College shows him trailing Trump by nearly 40 points in his home state. He also trails behind Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose degrading status as the top Trump alternative has contributed to some of the focus on Youngkin in his stead.

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"Fox News really is desperate to get a non-DeSantis alternative to Trump," the Daily Beast's Justin Baragona noted on X, formerly Twitter, earlier this month.

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That discrepancy between donor overtures and the Republican base' steadfast adherence to Trump thus far is the product of "beltway/donor cope," Semafor's Dave Weigel said, adding that it's "Grass-is-greener-ism, too." If former Trump United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, or South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott weren't already running, "there'd be a 'draft Haley/Scott, they can save us' donor meme."

Which isn't to say that Youngkin wouldn't be a formidable candidate. Not only was he the first Republican to win statewide office in blue-leaning Virginia in more than a decade, but by "running a center-right campaign centered on quality-of-life issues like the economy, public safety, education and personal freedoms" he represents "precisely what Republicans need to do at the national level to remain viable," according to longtime Democratic consultant Douglas Schoen. Youngkin's appeal, per Schoen, is that he was able to avoid "Trumpian style politics — without directly denouncing Trump or his voters." It's a balancing act echoed by a source close to Youngkin, who told Axios this spring that if he runs, the governor would be "in his own lane: He's not never-Trump, and he's not Trump-light."

What next?

As he insinuated in his Fox Business interview, Youngkin's immediate focus on Virginia's upcoming statewide elections will serve as something of a bellwether for his future political plans. Even though the governor would "likely face logistical challenges if he jumped into the Republican presidential primary in November, given that the Iowa caucuses are in January" The Hill reported, one Youngkin aide told Axios that "if the guy flips any seats at all, it's proof that his political machine is ready to go." Should Youngkin flip the Virginia Senate for Republicans entirely, "the pressure for the governor to jump into the presidential race will be enormous, no matter looming state filing deadlines," according to The Wall Street Journal. Conversely, "if that effort fails this November, it could chill any presidential plans he might have," Axios pointed out.

For his part, Trump obliquely addressed the possibility of a Youngkin challenge late last year, writing on Truth Social that his name "Sounds Chinese, doesn't it?" before characteristically asserting that the governor "couldn't have won without me."

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