…and you don’t have to be Nostradamus to figure out why — and for whom.
…although you might have to be Russell Kirk:
Men cannot improve a society by setting fire to it: they must seek out its old virtues, and bring them back into the light. England is still great, capable of regeneration; but if committed to the hands of the doctrinaire innovator, she must fall. [T]his must be restoration, not revolution.
— Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind (1953)
Been a whirlwind week for Governor Glenn Youngkin.
First and foremost, Roanoke College has Youngkin’s approval rating at 57% after a rather boring and predictable General Assembly session where Senate Democrats are busily bricking themselves away hoping for a cask of amontillado. Axios Richmond’s Ned Oliver was quick to point out that while the numbers feel high for Republicans, they are historically lower than most Virginia governors.
Second, Youngkin’s town hall on CNN was perhaps the first real grilling on any number of issues — the 2A, public education, and then some — since the nomination contest in the spring of 2021. Overall, Youngkin received high marks for his congenial and non-offensive style. Almost immediately after his CNN appearance, Youngkin led with a video talking about his upcoming NCAA March Madness brackets:
When Governor Youngkin promised to bring back the Spirit of Virginia, we didn't think he’d go this far…#MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/Er8pvDtvnH
— Glenn Youngkin (@GlennYoungkin) March 10, 2023
Differentiators Data — say that three times fast — issued the results of their polling done at the tail end of February. Some notables?
- Virginia Republicans like Governor Glenn Youngkin — 87% in fact.81% of Virginia Republicans like FL Governor Ron DeSantis; 71% like former President Donald J. Trump.
- LG Winsome Sears has an approval rating of 57% among Virginia Republicans; AG Jason Miyares is at 41%. Of that 57%, Sears is viewed as very favorable by 34.7% of Virginia Republicans; Miyares by 21.8%. Interestingly enough, Youngkin, Sears, and Miyares are each at 9% disapproval rates.
- DeSantis edges out Trump 37-34 among Virginia Republicans for POTUS 2024. DeSantis does better in NOVA; Trump does better in Southwest Virginia and Hampton Roads — and DeSantis sweeps the board in a head-to-head contest.
- For 2025 VA GOV? Sears holds a massive 31-point lead over Miyares in a head-to-head contest. Sears enjoys a 10% name ID lead over Miyares — so the numbers aren’t just a differential in name ID alone. Of course, one might suspect that if Youngkin were running for POTUS, the governor would be making moves to carry his home state — right?
Checking Off All the Boxes; Checking Down the List of Options
If there is one thing that Youngkin’s handlers seem obsessive to the point of myopia, it is a combination of name identification and approval ratings. We are talking Five Hour Energy Drink combined with Four Loko obsession — which is an odd triangulation if one is positioning themselves for a barfight.
This week, former Virginia AG Ken Cuccinelli announced the kickoff for a DeSantis SuperPAC. Cuccinelli — no fan of Trump or his handlers — should be a reminder of the old battle lines from the 2016 Republican primary contest where Texas Senator Ted Cruz (a close friend of Youngkin) had the rug pulled out from under their campaign as Cambridge Analytica et al. chose to ally themselves with another up and comer from New York.
Should DeSantis and Trump battle for the GOP nod? Both sides will come out bloody after an intensely negative campaign season.
Who better to angle for the VP nod than a state governor with high approval ratings, a nice guy touch, outstanding relationships with Wall Street, and oh-by-the-way is already connected with a Cruz-Cuccinelli-DeSantis campaign consultancy?
If DeSantis, more bang for the buck. If Trump? Youngkin can bring along the other half of the GOP nicely.
Be Careful Where You Invest Your Mind
One of the great secrets of the Obama 2008 campaign was the whole “long tail” myth. Sure, getting people to donate $7 to a presidential candidate was a bit of a gimmick (especially when it was done with labor money). But just like any sports team or NCAA bracket, individuals — or voters — seem to care about teams and candidates they might not otherwise invest in if not for that small participation cost.
Then there’s the additional concept of opportunity cost linked with participation cost. Donate $7 to a candidate or the Red Cross? Now they have you. Donate another $7. Asks keep coming. Stakes get higher. Donate another $7. Someone questions your sports team or candidate and you’re going to have an opinion because you have skin in the game.
Eventually, for the low cost of $7 or for the low cost of a T-shirt, magnet, bumper sticker or social media post — they have you precisely because you participated. Doesn’t matter what the cost actually was — you won’t change your mind, because changing your mind means you may have been (gulp!) wrong.
Fear of missing out meets the sunk cost fallacy. Every modern political campaign works on this function today if you think about it, folks.
There’s an old quote by John Maynard Keynes — more of a von Mises guy myself — which runs along the lines of:
“When the facts change, I change my mind.”
Most of us don’t do this. Don’t worry — it’s because we are human.
In politics, you’ll notice that we all stick with Youngkin — not because we want him to become president, but because we don’t want the Democrats returning to power in Virginia.
In sports? We just like our teams. We will even cheer for them knowing that in doing so it has zero-minus impact on the outcome of the game. We buy jerseys, season tickets, hats, jumpsuits — all participation cost.
But you can’t really claim to be an X supporter — Youngkin or sports teams — unless you participate and participate early (that’s the opportunity part).
So What Does Russell Kirk Have to Do with All of This?
Because you, dear reader, are going to be asked to set fire to society — unit committees, unit chairs, district chairs, conservative stalwarts, Tea Party types, RINOs, MAGA, friends, veterans, old hands, columnists — in order to prove you backed a candidate first.
Kirk was no slouch when it came to conservative values. We are going to find ourselves in the hands of a great number of “doctrinaire innovators” very soon, men and women who promise utopia but couldn’t spell the word if they were spotted the U and the -topia afterwards.
Certainly, the political left is swarming with such moral cowards, but don’t be surprised when folks on our side start preying upon your goodwill as well.
Need examples? There are dozens of little Robespierres who claim the world would be just perfect if we just got rid of X personality. Little consultancies paid handsomely asking you hate someone who agrees with 85% of what you believe in. Little minds looking to get rid of the political in service to the totalitarian — and turn you against friends and neighbors for a short-term gain in November in The Most Important Election In Our History (TM).
Has it ever worked?
I’m sure most of us have lost friends over politics. Certain things you can’t say at the dinner table. Certain ideas you cannot mention in front of that relative. Certain opinions which must be whispered rather than discussed. Certain doubt that cannot be expressed because we don’t want the Democrats to win, so eat your peas, shut your mouth, and get in line — right?
That’s where the restoration part comes into play for myself.
For one, I’m hesitant when I hear talk about restoring the “Spirit of Virginia” from those looking to leave Virginia for the next big thing in Washington. It probably isn’t even Youngkin, but it is most certainly his handlers. Partly because I want to believe such a thing is sincere rather than a political calculation — yet mostly because we all know that it is indeed rooted in a political calculation.
Most folks are reminded of Psalms regarding placing one’s faith in princes, yet the verse following is perhaps more instructive as we debate whether Youngkin positions as governor or is merely governing for position:
Put not your trust in princes,
in mortal man, who cannot save.
When his spirit departs, he returns to the ground;
on that very day his plans perish.
That’s Psalm 146:3-4 for those who need reminding. When Youngkin leaves? So too does the rhetoric — and we are left with the results (or lack thereof).
If you want to know the secret to Trump? There it is — Republicans got tired of being told one thing during campaign season only to watch it become too hard to accomplish during governing season. The Democrats don’t seem to have this disease; Republicans sadly do.
It doesn’t take a revolutionary to fix these things. Just a restoration of common sense against the compromise and craziness of the times. But it does take a certain amount of political will.
Kirk’s praise of Disraeli against Gladstone’s innovations remains a warning to us in the present day. Maybe the Toryism of Disraeli is finding new ground with a conservative who intends to revive the spirit of the Old Dominion before proceeding elsewhere?
Either way, I am not confident that Republicans are leaving much of a mark in the way that either McAuliffe or Northam managed to do as Democrats with a split legislature — mostly in an effort to protect approval ratings rather than dig in and win a round against State Senator Louise Lucas’ Twitter account.
But wouldn’t it be nice if we took just a little something back of the things we lost before we parade for the next higher office?
Shaun Kenney is the editor of The Republican Standard, former chairman of the Board of Supervisors for Fluvanna County, and a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia.