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Look who’s back / September 15, 2021

Let’s look at what the top endorser of Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin was up to at the beginning of the year ....

From CNN on Tuesday:

Two days after the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol, President Donald Trump’s top military adviser, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, single-handedly took secret action to limit Trump from potentially ordering a dangerous military strike or launching nuclear weapons, according to “Peril,” a new book by legendary journalist Bob Woodward and veteran Washington Post reporter Robert Costa.

Woodward and Costa write that Milley, deeply shaken by the assault, ‘was certain that Trump had gone into a serious mental decline in the aftermath of the election, with Trump now all but manic, screaming at officials and constructing his own alternate reality about endless election conspiracies.’

Milley worried that Trump could ‘go rogue,’ the authors write.

“You never know what a president’s trigger point is,” Milley told his senior staff, according to the book .....

Milley’s fear was based on his own observations of Trump’s erratic behavior. His concern was magnified by the events of Jan. 6 and the ‘extraordinary risk’ the situation posed to US national security, the authors write. Milley had already had two back-channel phone calls with China’s top general, who was on high alert over the chaos in the US.

Then Milley received a blunt phone call from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to the book. Woodward and Costa exclusively obtained a transcript of the call, during which Milley tried to reassure Pelosi that the nuclear weapons were safe.

Pelosi pushed back.

“What I’m saying to you is that if they couldn’t even stop him from an assault on the Capitol, who even knows what else he may do? And is there anybody in charge at the White House who was doing anything but kissing his fat butt all over this?”

Pelosi continued, “You know he’s crazy. He’s been crazy for a long time.”

According to Woodward and Costa, Milley responded, “Madam Speaker, I agree with you on everything.”

You know, I believe all of this account except the part where Nancy Pelosi used the word “butt” to describe the choice body part of our former president.

With its release later this month, “Peril” takes its place in the Bob Woodward oeuvre, next to the investigative journalist’s insider accounts of the administrations of Presidents Bush, Clinton, Bush II, Obama and two prior volumes on the Trump presidency. You can find copies of “Peril” on the Shocking-But-Not-Surprising book aisle at Barnes & Noble.

Trump’s enduring popularity with the Republican base is of special interest here because his foul spectre looms over the campaign of Youngkin, who is seeking to become the first Republican to win statewide office in Virginia since Bob McDonnell captured the 2009 governor’s race. Youngkin is opposed by former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who is running for a second non-consecutive term of office. McAuliffe is also seeking to continue the Democratic Party’s grip on the Governor’s Mansion once Ralph Northam leaves office next year. And, yes, Trump has enthusiastically endorsed Youngkin, even if the candidate generally tries to hide the fact.

It would be both shocking and surprising if Youngkin wins the race for governor, given the bluish-purple tint of Virginia politics, but stranger things have happened — as if we needed that reminder in the age of Donald Trump. Youngkin isn’t nearly the rancid figure that Trump is, but he represents a type that’s arguably worse: the serial enabler, personally bereft of energy and ideas, but more than happy to harness the crazy of others en route to his desired seat of power.

This is a candidate who famously didn’t have an issues page on his website until the end of August — someone so determined not to be pinned down on anything of substance that Youngkin, a Republican standard bearer in a major state election contest, blew a gimme NRA endorsement by declining to answer the organization’s candidate questionnaire. How does that even happen? Youngkin’s only real policy initiative is a plan to implement Kansas-style tax cuts weighted heavily in favor of deep-pocketed individuals and corporations. In case you’re unfamiliar with the so-called “Kansas Experiment,” in 2012 former Gov. Sam Brownback slashed income and corporate taxes so steeply that the state’s finances went over a cliff, schools were decimated and — wait for it — Kansas’s economy underperformed relative to neighboring Nebraska and Colorado.

Things got so bad that the Republican-controlled legislature reversed direction and passed tax increases to stem the bleeding, then overrode Brownback’s vetoes when he tried to stop the hikes. By 2017, five years after his tax plan went into effect, Brownback sported an approval rating of 25 percent, a number that makes Donald Trump look like Walter Cronkite by comparison.

Aside from his one (and only) signature campaign proposal, the rest of Youngkin’s schtick as a candidate consists of vacuous pronouncements that aim to straddle the divide between Trumpism and reality. Reality dictates that a candidate can’t run successfully in Virginia by claiming our elections are corrupt, or pushing to add a Texas-style abortion bounty hunter law to the books, or waging Ron DeSantis-style battles on public health. (DeSantis is the governor of Florida who has barred school districts from imposing classroom mask mandates and sued the cruise ship industry over its requirement that only vaccinated passengers can take part in its close-quarters voyages.)

Problem is, all of the above issues are red meat for the Trumpism base, and Youngkin needs a big-time turnout by these folks to have any chance of winning in November. So he’s stuck trying to bridge the divide between the Trumpy faithful and moderate voters who are concentrated largely in the suburbs and cities and decide elections in Virginia. It would be a difficult task to finesse for a talented and experienced candidate, much less a political neophye like Youngkin, who is making his first run for office after retiring from a highly renumerative career in the private equity industry.

One of the few honest moments of the Youngkin campaign came when the candidate was captured on hidden video, speaking to a woman posing as an anti-abortion activist and telling her, essentially, that he couldn’t reveal his true position on abortion because he would never be elected in Virginia if he did. (Youngkin told the woman, “When I’m governor and I have a majority in the House we can start going on offense. But as a campaign topic, sadly, that in fact won’t win my independent votes that I have to get.”) It later came to light that the woman was a Democratic-aligned operative, so extra demerit points to Youngkin for being kind of a dope about the whole business. Regardless of how you may feel about abortion, you’ve got to admit — hidden-camera, double-pinkie-swear promises by candidates for office are both noxious and weak. Did Donald Trump ever hold back from saying exactly what was on his mind? Yeah, that’s not how I remember it happened, either.

In his prior term as governor, from 2014 to 2018, Terry McAuliffe was just fine in office — statewide job growth under his watch was solid (if not quite as spectacular as the McAuliffe campaigh claims), he notched some notable business development victories (and a few misses), and he generally stayed on-point working to consistently improve Virginia’s economy, including, notably, in rural Virginia. (It was under McAuliffe that the Virginia Tobacco Commission finally became accountable for its past failures, a data point everyone should remember the next time former commission vice-chair Frank Ruff whines in his column about the allegedly terrible job McAuliffe did as governor.) In other words, this election shouldn’t be close — and it might not be close, although we’ll have to wait until November to truly find out.

The bigger point, of course, is that McAuliffe has taken a conventional path to success in politics — becoming a governor who prioritized the economy and pushed to make secondary progress in a number of different areas — while Youngkin personifies the quisling style of Republican politics, which is actually a backhandedly charitable interpretation insofar as it assumes he isn’t actually a full-bore wingnut in the mold of a Marjorie Taylor Green or Madison Cawthorne (or our own 5th District Congressman, Bob Good). It remains to be seen if Youngkin’s quest to be a pale rider of the storm is good politics. Would the success of such a strategy be good for Virginia? Some days, the questions practically answer themselves.

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