Virginia Loss Was Bad for Joe Biden, Could Be Even Worse for Donald Trump

Glenn Youngkin's victory in the Virginia governor's race is being seen as a major defeat for Democrats following their successes last November and in January.

The Republican candidate triumphed over Democrat and former governor Terry McAuliffe in a state President Joe Biden won by 10 points over former President Donald Trump last year.

While Trump and the GOP celebrated Youngkin's win, the results from Virginia might not be good news for the former president despite the way Republicans are depicting the race.

Youngkin was endorsed by Trump, but kept his distance from the putative leader of his party throughout the campaign.

Trump didn't travel to Virginia to campaign for Youngkin in person, but instead phoned in to events to offer his support.

Democrats sought to tie Trump to Youngkin and President Biden, who campaigned in the state for McAuliffe, suggested Youngkin was "embarrassed" to let the former president campaign for him. Nonetheless, Youngkin prevailed despite the Democrats' efforts.

McAuliffe's defeat may be a warning for the president's party ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, but Virginia could also hold lessons for Trump.

Experts who spoke to Newsweek said that while Trump remains a pivotal figure in the GOP, Youngkin's victory seems to show that a Republican can succeed without going all in on the former president.

This could have an effect on a potential Trump presidential run in 2024, particularly if the party can integrate Trump-style politics with candidates who may be less controversial than the former president.

Nothing to Offer

Paul Quirk, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia in Canada, told Newsweek that Youngkin avoided fully embracing Trump because of the potential harm it would have done to his campaign.

"Youngkin's campaign could be the start of something big for the Republican Party - a gradual process of separating itself from Donald Trump," Quirk said.

He added that Youngkin's approach to Trump meant the former president had to accept being kept at a distance while not turning his voter base against the Republican candidate.

"Trump apparently figured out that he had nothing to offer Youngkin, or to threaten him with, that would change his calculations," Quirk said.

Quirk explained that while this tactic would likely not be adopted by Republicans in red states, it could take hold in typically blue states like Virginia and crucial swing states.

Goading Trump

Youngkin's decision to keep Trump at arms' length doesn't mean the former president has lost his influence in the party, but Trump could view the situation in a negative light.

David A. Bateman, an associate professor of government at Cornell University, told Newsweek that there was potential for another Republican to emerge as a credible alternative to Trump while continuing with former president's policies.

"Trump's ego is astounding, so I could easily see him being goaded into believing that Virginia was an effort to steer the party away from him," Bateman said.

"More likely though is that he can spin the results as evidence that the country is turning against Democrats - if he can manage to acknowledge that they even turned towards them in the first place - and he can tell himself, not wrongly, that his endorsement of Youngkin and the incorporation of themes such as CRT [Critical Race Theory] or anti-trans sentiment into the campaign are just more evidence that it's his party," he went on.

Bateman said Trump doing this "would only strengthen the case for making a return in 2024."

"Still, any time a governor or state-level politician shows the ability to hold and expand a Trump-like coalition it raises the possibility that the party doesn't need his specific brand of toxic magic to achieve the same basic goals and agendas," Bateman warned.

"So I don't see it changing his calculations, but it does increase the number of potential challengers, not just Youngkin, but anyone who thinks they can keep Trump's coalition and policy agenda together while expanding it just enough," he said.

No Rejection of Trumpism

Despite Trump's limited role in the Virginia race, the outcome shouldn't be seen as a rejection of his policies, according to Thomas Gift, founding director of University College London's Centre on U.S. Politics.

Gift explained that Youngkin didn't repudiate Trump and said that doing so would have hurt his electoral chances.

"Although there's an understandable temptation to view Youngkin's victory as a rejection of Trumpism within the GOP, this view misreads the kind of campaign Youngkin actually ran," Gift said.

"Even if it wasn't fully accurate, there's a reason why Democrats felt they'd have success painting Youngkin as 'Trump in khakis,'" he went on.

Gift told Newsweek that Youngkin had "finessed his stance toward Trump more than ran away from him."

"If he'd fully distanced himself from the former president, it's very likely that would have depressed turnout in MAGA-dominated parts of the state. For that reason, the Virginia outcome should - at worst - be seen as neutral for Trump," he said.

Trump Speaks to Supporters in Iowa
Former President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on October 9, 2021, in Des Moines, Iowa. Trump has welcomed Republican Glenn Youngkin's victory in the Virginia governor's race. Scott Olson/Getty Images