Former President Donald Trump warned GOP gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin on Thursday that he needs to fully embrace Trump’s “MAGA movement” in order to beat Democrat Terry McAuliffe on Nov. 2.
Trump said Thursday in an interview with conservative radio host John Fredericks, a former top Virginia campaign official for Trump, that he thinks Youngkin can win, but he issued a caveat.
After again raising unfounded doubts about the integrity of Virginia’s elections, Trump said: “The only guys that win are the guys that embrace the MAGA movement.”
He added: “When they try and go down a railroad track: You know, ‘Hey, oh yeah, sure, love it, love it. Oh yeah, love Trump, love Trump, OK, let’s go, next subject,’ When they do that ... they never win. They never win. They have to embrace it.”
The Youngkin campaign did not issue a comment Thursday night.
Also Thursday, Trump issued a statement underscoring that Youngkin received stronger support than McAuliffe among likely voters in a poll released Wednesday by the University of Mary Washington.
“Terry McAuliffe was a badly failed Governor — owned by Crooked Hillary,” Trump said in the statement.
McAuliffe, governor from 2014 to 2018, responded on Twitter: “President Trump can’t stop talking about Glenn Youngkin. We MUST reject Glenn’s Trump-style politics this November.”
Youngkin, a former co-CEO of The Carlyle Group, has walked a Trump tightrope throughout the campaign. He said in a May 14 radio interview: “President Trump represents so much of why I’m running.”
But in other statements during the general election, Youngkin has been far more circumspect about the former president.
Trump first endorsed Youngkin on May 11, the day after he secured the nomination. That day, Youngkin took the stage at a Richmond warehouse and delivered an aggressive nomination victory speech in which he did not mention the former president.
Last year, Trump lost Virginia to Democrat Joe Biden by 10 percentage points. Suburban antipathy to Trump in Virginia’s population centers has helped Democrats maintain their winning streak in statewide elections and helped the party gain control of the House of Delegates, the state Senate and the state’s U.S. House delegation.
Trump has issued similar warnings before. In July, he said in a statement emailed by his leadership PAC that four years ago, GOP nominee Ed Gillespie ran for governor without “embracing” Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement.
“He tried to skirt the issue by wanting my endorsement, yet walking on both sides of the fence. The Trump base is very large in Virginia, they understood his game, and they didn’t come out for Gillespie,” Trump said. “He got creamed!”
Democrat Ralph Northam beat Gillespie by about 9 points in 2017.
In ads and public statements, McAuliffe has sought to frame Youngkin as a Trump acolyte, as in Youngkin’s opposition to COVID-19 mask mandates. But in his first debate with McAuliffe on Sept. 16 at the Appalachian School of Law, Youngkin notably differed from Trump on the prospect of election fraud.
In a different interview with Fredericks, Trump had raised questions about the integrity of Virginia’s upcoming election, as he did with the presidential election, saying: “You know how they cheat in elections. The Virginia governor’s election, you better watch it.”
Youngkin said in the debate: “I do not believe there’s been significant fraud in Virginia elections,” and he said he does not think Democrats will cheat.
“I think we’re going to have a clean, fair election and I fully expect to win,” Youngkin said.
Both candidates said at the debate that they expect to prevail, but that if the state certifies their opponent as the duly elected governor, they will recognize the legitimacy of the result.
Staff writer Mel Leonor contributed to this report.