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Charlie Kirk: What Youngkin’s victory tells us about Trump and the conservative movement

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Republican Glenn Youngkin’s upset victory in the Virginia gubernatorial race this week came as a welcome sign for many conservatives nationwide, including myself. But what does it mean for the future of the conservative movement?

Of course, it means that Youngkin’s defeat of one-time Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is a repudiation of President Joe Biden’s supposed “popularity.” 

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But the real debate among many in the GOP over the next few weeks will invariably be, is it also a repudiation of Donald Trump  as the party’s standard bearer and leader?

Never-Trumpers wasted no time making their point in the immediate aftermath. 

“We can win 2024 without Trump,” Meghan McCain declared

A headline on the Drudge Report blared, “Shocker shows Trump isn’t needed…” Joe Scarborough claimed that Youngkin won in part because of Trump being banned from social media. Erick Erickson calmly responded by saying that the Virginia race proves Republicans who had questions about the 2020 election should now “STFU.”

The mainstream media, also glad to be rid of Trump, joined in as well. The Atlantic opined that Youngkin “showed the possibility of a party that isn’t Trump’s any longer.” 

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“The GOP’s Trump-free campaign in Virginia worked,” a CNN contributor wrote. Slate said “Glenn Youngkin triumphed by winning over a large number of voters who don’t support the former president.”

So the argument goes—Youngkin won because he rejected Trump, and the GOP must reject him too if it wants to win.

The exact opposite is true. While Youngkin may not share Trump’s blustering style, he nevertheless won precisely because of the kind of combative conservative politics that defines Trumpism.

Indisputably, the core issue of the Virginia campaign was critical race theory in schools. Youngkin promised to ban it while McAuliffe said parents shouldn’t be telling teachers what to teach. Polls clearly showed that as voters’ concerns over education grew, so too did Youngkin’s support.

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But banning critical race theory is more than a catchy slogan. It’s an embrace of a more aggressive Republican Party that won’t just sit on the sidelines and advocate for lower taxes, but is willing to use government power when necessary to protect families against the radical excesses of the left. 

It is the precise embodiment of Trump’s 2016 message, that adherence to individual liberty and “conservative principles” cannot be used as a weapon against our civilization, our shared American values, and definitely not our children.

Author and former New York Post opinion editor, Sohrab Ahmari, put it succinctly on Wednesday when he wrote that while Youngkin is indeed an establishment type, “banning CRT means the government standing up for truth—rather than neutrality—in the public square.” 

The CRT example gives Republicans a blueprint for the midterms and beyond. Directly confronting the left, and promising to fight their illiberal ideology with state power when necessary, is the key to winning everyday Americans. 

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The old GOP would have said, “I can’t stop them from teaching CRT in schools, because we don’t ban books (even though we already do) because that’s not what conservatives do!” The new GOP says, “We must ban CRT because it is an evil ideology and it’s hurting families.” See the difference?

Civil libertarians like David French warn of the rise of an anti-liberal right that is just as problematic as the radical left. But Trump demonstrated, and Youngkin’s win reaffirms, that in order to fight an illiberal left that very much intends on transforming America, conservatives must be willing to confront those political forces with enough strength to actually win the battle.

Youngkin ran on other Trumpian themes as well: law and order, fully funding the police, and voter ID laws. This is not the message of the old GOP. 

Those who rush to discount Trump and his movement are presenting a false choice. Youngkin ran a smart campaign, but also a very local one. 

The lesson isn’t to throw Trump overboard, it’s to take his issues and translate them for local voters. Use whatever style matches the candidate and the voters, but be willing to fight and win. 

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Banning CRT is not illiberal or un-American. It’s common sense to everyday people, and it helped Youngkin win in a very blue Virginia. But he might not have ever made such a stand had Trump not already ignited a movement of grassroots conservatives who wanted to take their country back. Youngkin wisely harnessed the national energy and redirected it masterfully for his constituents.

Republicans must learn the right lessons from their recent victories and focus on concrete policy proposals that protect Americans from the radical left. That is popular. That can win. But if Republicans decide to throw out Trump and his movement, they will destroy a coalition that just proved it’s powerful enough to completely remake the American political landscape for a generation. 

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