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Glenn Youngkin’s Policies Remain Elusive Six Months Into Campaign

Youngkin waves at a rally in front of bleachers
Glenn Youngkin greets supporters at a rally earlier this month in Loudoun County. (Photo: Glenn Youngkin's Facebook page) 

Republican Glenn Youngkin says he wants to build a “rip-roaring” economy, protect the Second Amendment, and bring down the cost of living. But if the devil is in the details, you won’t find much on the gubernatorial hopeful’s website, TV ads, or public appearances. 

On Monday, Youngkin said he would skip another venue for voters to learn more: a longstanding summer gubernatorial debate hosted by the Virginia Bar Association against his Democratic opponent, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Campaign spokesperson Macaulay Porter said the debate had refused to dedicate a portion of the event to the economy and jobs. She argued the moderator, PBS Newshour host Judy Woodruff, was compromised by a $250 donation to a Haiti relief fund coordinated by the Clinton Foundation and led by former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. (McAuliffe is personal friends with the Clintons).

“It’s pretty clear that Youngkin is trying to avoid getting pinned down on specific issues,” said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “This makes sense as a candidate who belongs to a party that has been on the wrong side of recent trends in Virginia.”

Youngkin made a similar point in a secretly recorded video released by the liberal news site The American Independent last week. Asked by one man why he didn’t “take it to the abortionists,” Youngkin cited political considerations. Virginia hasn’t elected a Republican to statewide office since 2009. 

“As a campaign topic, sadly, that in fact won’t win my independent votes that I have to get,” he said in the video, which the campaign said was deceptively recorded and failed to show any inconsistencies in his positions. 

The dearth of specifics on Youngkin’s stances stand out in part because of the reams of policy proposals put out by McAuliffe. The former governor’s website includes 13 policy papers on topics ranging from gun violence to affordable housing. McAuliffe has attacked his rival for running a campaign he argues is inspired by former President Donald Trump, who issued his third note of support for Youngkin on Monday. 

“I don’t know what the man’s for other than talking points that he gets from his Trump handlers,” McAuliffe said in an interview on Tuesday. “He’s way out of his league.”

Youngkin’s campaign disputes the notion that his campaign lacks substance. They point to recent proposals outlining how he would help veterans, improve academic standards, and combat human trafficking. And they note Youngkin has agreed to three debates, although only one has been confirmed by both candidates (McAuliffe has agreed to five debates). 

In the run up to the May GOP nominating convention, Youngkin’s elusiveness on policy attracted voters who saw it as an asset in a blue-leaning state. But his refusal to answer questionnaires sent by the National Rifle Association and Virginia Citizen Defense League also drew flak from critics who warned he was not a true conservative.

Youngkin has laid out some of his clearest proposals around voting laws. His “Election Integrity Plan” calls for mandatory photo ID, an independent department of elections, witness signatures and a citizenship question on mail-in ballots, and monthly examinations of voter rolls to remove people who’ve died or moved.

For months, Youngkin dodged questions on whether he believed Trump’s false claims of widespread electoral fraud. He acknowledged the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s presidential election after he secured the GOP nomination in May. 

Rich Meagher, an associate political science professor at Randolph-Macon College, said that as a “political newcomer” who had not run for office before, Youngkin didn’t bring a long history of policy proposals. But he said national forces were also at play as Trump accelerated the national GOP’s turn toward emotional appeals, particularly ones anchored in resentment.

“It’s almost like the brand of the Republican Party these days is emotional appeals rather than policy proposals,” he said. “This is the way that Republicans feel like they can win elections these days.”

Editor's Note: This story as been updated to include both reasons Youngkin gave for skipping the VBA debate.