Many Republicans responded to the federal charges against Donald Trump with talking points about “the weaponization of federal law enforcement” or head-shaking about “a sad day.” But Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin stood out from the herd with a single tweet. Youngkin managed to deploy the talking points without even mentioning Trump’s name, wrap himself in tones of sorrow and concern for justice itself, and at the same time, astonishingly, latch on to Trump’s indictment to promote his own personal favorite political issue.
Unprecedented charges … sad day for our country … two-tiered justice system … selective prosecution … I’m sorry, what now? Virginia parents?
Yes, that’s Youngkin trying to tie Donald Trump being indicted—for willful retention of classified documents, conspiracy to obstruct justice, withholding a document or record, corruptly concealing a document or record, concealing a document in a federal investigation, scheme to conceal, and making false statements and representations—to his own pet issue of “parental rights” in schools. He is not, of course, talking about the parents of trans kids whose rights he targeted. He’s talking about parents like the one in his campaign ad moaning about how her son was assigned to read Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” in high school, or the ones who spent early 2022 screeching about mask mandates in schools, or the ones he tried to get to call in complaints to his anti-critical race theory hotline.
The ability of parents to scream at and threaten school board members, demand the banning of books, and demonize LGBTQ+ kids is, according to Youngkin, just like Trump’s right to remove classified documents from the White House, store them in bathrooms and ballrooms, show them to people without security clearances, and obstruct government efforts to get the documents back. It’s an interesting comparison—and while I am no fan of the parents Youngkin has repeatedly sought to elevate as the people who really matter in Virginia, it’s pretty unfair to them.
Youngkin’s attempt to insert himself into the Trump indictment story, which he could easily have sat out, is also fascinating since President Joe Biden won Virginia by 10 points in 2020—and because of this:
A lot of Youngkin’s constituents work for the federal government and know how serious these laws are. They know how much trouble they would be in if they did a fraction of what Trump has allegedly done.
The thing is, despite ridiculous moves like this—showing his loyalty to Trump and embracing standard Republican talking points—Youngkin will keep getting media tongue baths as long as he puts on a fleece and postures as some kind of cuddly moderate. Really, though, he is once again showing the centrality of grievance in Republican politics as he tries to rope Virginia parents into a creepy and misplaced “I am Spartacus” moment with Trump.
This week on "The Downballot," we're joined by guest host Joe Sudbay and law professor Quinn Yeargain for a deep dive into major political developments in three states. First up is Arizona, where a key GOP retirement on the Board of Supervisors in jumbo Maricopa County gives Democrats an excellent chance to win their first majority since the 1960s. Then it's on to Arkansas, where citizens are working to overturn a Republican bill that purports to ban "critical race theory" in public schools by qualifying a referendum for the ballot. Finally, we hit Michigan, where Democrats just advanced a measure to have the state add its Electoral College votes to a multistate compact that would elect the president by the national popular vote.