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Youngkin, like DeSantis, faces Trump's fury

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, former President Donald Trump and a Truth Social post from Trump.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, former President Donald Trump and a Truth Social post from Trump. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Alex Wong/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Fresh off a diatribe against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whom he derisively described as an “average” Republican in a Thursday social media post, former President Donald Trump on Friday morning went after another popular Republican governor — Glenn Youngkin of Virginia — in what seemed like a warning meant to dissuade him from seeking the presidency in 2024.

“Young Kin (now that’s an interesting take. Sounds Chinese, doesn’t it?) in Virginia couldn’t have won without me,” Trump wrote in a post on Truth Social, his proprietary social media network. It is not clear why he falsely insinuated that Youngkin was of Chinese ancestry (the origins of the governor’s name are Germanic), but Trump has a record of rhetoric against China and Chinese people, which during the coronavirus pandemic contributed to anti-Asian rhetoric and violence.

Trump at an election night party at his Mar-a-Lago estate on Tuesday.
Trump at an election night party at his Mar-a-Lago estate on Tuesday. (Phelan M. Ebenhack for the Washington Post via Getty Images)

A former finance executive, Youngkin used discontent over school closures and other education-related issues (many of which were gathered under the broad and inexact umbrella term of “critical race theory”) to prevail in last year’s gubernatorial contest over Democratic establishment favorite Terry McAuliffe.

As with DeSantis, Trump suggested he was fully responsible for the governor’s unlikely political ascent. “I Endorsed him, did a very big Trump Rally for him telephonically, got MAGA to Vote for him — or he couldn’t have come close to winning. But he knows that, and admits it,” Trump wrote on Truth Social.

Although it is true that Trump endorsed Youngkin in the state’s Republican primary, the candidate conspicuously kept his distance during the general election, moderating his rhetoric in order to appeal to Democrats — and allay concerns that he was simply a fleece-vest-wearing version of the polarizing former president.

“We’re going to have a whole new crop of Republicans come in and define a new way forward,” Youngkin said as the campaign was closing, an obvious reference to the GOP’s public struggles to move beyond Trumpism and Trump.

Youngkin speaks at a rally for Virginia Republican congressional candidate Yesli Vega, who sits behind him.
Youngkin speaks at a rally for Virginia Republican congressional candidate Yesli Vega in Triangle, Va., on Monday. (Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

Since then, Youngkin has attracted a fair share of presidential speculation. Asked last month about whether he had White House ambitions, he gave the kind of answer that tends to suggest, if history is any indication, that he does: “2024 is a long way away. And I’m really humbled by the speculation, but right now I’m very focused on Virginia,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

A less combative and polarizing figure than DeSantis, Youngkin could hold more appeal to suburban voters, who helped him win in the northern Virginia suburbs, which have sometimes been seen as a presidential bellwether. Throughout the fall, he and DeSantis both campaigned for Republican candidates, albeit in different states.

But while DeSantis won reelection easily, leading to instant — and, some cautioned, premature — coronation as the 2024 frontrunner, candidates endorsed by Youngkin fared poorly.

So did those endorsed by Trump, who is increasingly seen by Republicans as a drag on the party’s prospects.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his wife, Casey, at an election night watch party.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his wife, Casey, at an election night watch party in Tampa on Tuesday. (Giorgio Viera/AFP via Getty Images)

The former president sees things quite differently, blaming party leaders, election officials and apparently his wife, Melania, for his candidates’ poor showing. Nor are those results apparently dissuading him from possibly announcing his own presidential run next Tuesday, in a development that could put him on a direct collision course with ambitious governors like DeSantis and Youngkin, as well as other prominent figures — including potentially his former vice president, Mike Pence.

Notably, the rhetoric of Trump’s post regarding Youngkin was softer in tone — and shorter — than his anti-DeSantis screed. Lamenting some of Youngkin’s challenges with state-level Democrats, Trump ended on a puzzlingly encouraging note: “But he’ll get it done!”

Youngkin responded to Trump on Friday afternoon. "I have to be honest, I've been busy all morning," he told reporters after first claiming not to have seen Trump's message. "You all know me, I do not call people names. I really work hard to bring people together — and that's what we're working on," adding a few moments later, "That's not the way I roll, and not the way I behave."

So far, DeSantis has not issued a response of his own.