There Are No Unicorn Candidates in Politics

Demanding purity only creates more partisanship and division

On Saturday, I waited in line at my local polling precinct and voted for Glenn Youngkin in Virginia. It was interesting to see journalists complain about the GOP’s use of a ranked-choice convention to choose its nominee to run for Governor instead of an open primary. A whole lot of people wanted Amanda Chase, an unabashed Trump-humper. The Virginia Senate went so far as to censure her for comments about January 6th, and it received Republican support.

So, why would anyone complain about her not getting the nomination? That’s more a rhetorical question. We know they’d love the crapfest it would produce. Instead of Chase or even Pete Snyder, who kind of went all-in for Trump, Youngkin emerged victoriously. Virginia journalist Brandon Jarvis wrote:

Candidates Amanda Chase and Pete Snyder have fully embraced the Trump voters and their talking points while Kirk Cox and Glenn Youngkin have moved towards the establishment and moderate voters — perhaps in an attempt to appeal to a larger electorate in November.

Now, had Chase gotten the nomination, I likely would have sat out the race or gone for a write-in. I think Chase is an embarrassment. I'm also not too fond of Terry McAuliffe. As someone familiar with his schtick going back to the 2000 presidential election, I always see a charlatan — someone with almost no core convictions in addition to the political positions I diametrically oppose — in the former governor.

Earlier this month, I had the misfortune of reading a Washington Post editorial entitled, '“Glenn Youngkin has failed the test of character.” It was a hilariously desperate attempt to tie Youngkin to Trump. But, unfortunately, it was made worse with what the editorial the board had to write two days later, tepidly calling out Terry McAuliffe for claiming Stacey Abrams is the rightful governor of Georgia. Keep in mind; this goes along with McAuliffe’s claims that George W. Bush stole the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.

Not only did the Post not question McAuliffe’s character, they tacitly agreed with his comments. They wrote:

“That’s what happened to Stacey Abrams,” Mr. McAuliffe said. "They took the votes away.”

Unlike Mr. Trump’s wild lies about millions of fraudulent votes, there’s some basis for Mr. McAuliffe’s statement. He was referring to the number of people purged from the voting rolls, for various reasons, between 2012 and 2018; in the year before the election, nearly 700,000 were purged, more Democrats than Republicans; and the person in charge of the operation was Brian Kemp, who was both secretary of state and Ms. Abrams’s opponent in the race for governor.

Emphasis mine. No, there is no basis for his statement. Not a single vote was taken away. The supposed nefarious “purge,” as they call it, in Georgia was a perfectly legitimate means of maintaining data integrity by making inactive or removing registrations in the state from people who hadn’t voted in several previous elections.

The notion that such comments get graded on a curve is unadulterated nonsense. Either you’re sowing seeds of doubt in the electoral system, or you’re not. That’s not to say what McAuliffe did is comparable to Trump. It merely means McAuliffe does not get a pass because of the extent Trump went to in an attempt to maintain his grip on power.

That brings us back to the Virginia election that wraps up tomorrow.

Too many people are often idealistic when it comes to politicians. There is a protracted list of pols who burst onto the scene with very high expectations and supporters exclaiming, “PRAISE THE LAWD! THE PERFECT ONE HAS ARRIVED!’ only to find them later with their head hung low when the person disappoints them.

Glenn Youngkin is not a perfect candidate, and quite honestly, I do not care. I am not expecting perfection. But the way some have reacted is puzzling in that they’re seemingly convinced Youngkin is no different than Marjorie-Taylor Greene or Matt Gaetz. For example, when I tweeted my voting status on Saturday, one person said I am supporting someone who “fully embraces Trump.” When I asked in what way, they said because Youngkin hadn’t specifically “denounced” Trump, and according to them, that is the equivalent of “embracing” him.

I found such reasoning silly, but to each his own. Other comments come off as utterly bizarre:

What he’s demanding is nonsensical. He wants Youngkin to run against Trump. I mean, here we are, a year out from the 2020 election and ten months out from the awful events of January 6th, and the people who want to continue to focus on Trump are:

  • Trump and his sycophants

  • Democrats

  • Rabid anti-Trumpers (you can call them Bulwarkers, MaxBooters, or JenRubiners)

It’s not about ignoring what happened or pretending it never happened. But people seem genuinely upset that Youngkin focuses his time on beating Terry McAuliffe instead of talking about Trump.

This brings us to the question: What do the forces of the rabid never-Trump movement want?

Please note for the record that I was “never Trump” before they had a name for it. I wrote back in 2014 about how the conservative movement should have told Trump to get lost. I never cast a vote for him. At the same time, I’m also a realist and a pragmatist when it comes to politics and don’t believe every Republican is a Trump acolyte unless they perform endless, exhaustive acts of anti-Trump purity. The people who turned into the new Political Purity Police, demanding I vote for Democrats unless I wanted to “enable” Trump, are still going like the man is still in office.

The issue received further illumination when Matt Lewis of The Daily Beast asked a reasonable question:

To which The Bulwark’s Sarah Longwell replied:

Note the use of the word “unique.” Now, I think Trump is uniquely awful. That he won an electoral victory in 2016 is not a testament to his character, nor are the standard GOP moves he made while in office. It’s why I didn’t vote for him, and it’s why I never will.

But the pragmatist in me doesn’t see Trump when I look at any Republican not named Liz Cheney or Adam Kinzinger. The problem for people such as Longwell is the notion of the “unique threat.” The word unique means “being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else.” If that is the case, attempting to turn Glenn Youngkin into some Trump mini-me makes no sense, and the same goes for Ron DeSantis.

You cannot have it both ways. Trump cannot be a “unique threat” while attaching the “just like Trump” label to other Republicans.

Conor Friedersdorf has a terrific piece in The Atlantic where he examines this. A passage of note:

So far, DeSantis has threaded that dispiriting needle more deftly than most other Republican contenders. My colleague David Frum wrote in an April profile that the DeSantis approach is “a form of political judo that works by employing judicious but limited provocation, followed by a deft, just-in-time retreat to the center,” arguing that “the Florida governor has figured out that Republicans love a culture-war brawl, but that overdoing it can alienate a general-election electorate.” I strongly disagree with DeSantis on some issues—such as capital punishment and the drug war—and have all the policy objections you’d expect from a classical liberal. Yet I would be relieved to grant him four years in the White House if, in return, I could be assured that no Trump would ever again be president.

That’s a reckoning for the just-like-Trump never-Trump contingent. So what happens if Trump says he’s in and DeSantis says, “I’m in, too.” Do they sit it out because DeSantis is “just like Trump?” It’s not a situation where they’d have to support DeSantis in a general election. They’re free to support a Biden re-election campaign or, God help us, a Kamala Harris candidacy.

But if Trump is the “unique threat” they say he is, wouldn’t they want to do everything they could to keep him out of office? If Trump is a genuine danger to the fabric of our democracy, then why not support a candidate that can get through the GOP primary in 2024. Forget about the fantasy of thinking Larry Hogan or Charlie Baker will swoop in to save the day.

Now, I am not one to make declarative statements about people’s motivations. I don’t particularly appreciate it when people do it to me. But, that said, when you’ve built a brand around the opposition to one person — a brand that involves traffic and subscribers to websites, podcast downloads, television hits, business deals, and book deals — it has a brief shelf life. And after a time, it becomes transparent to others that the effort to keep that one person relevant is the catalyst for keeping their brand relevant.

People have to stop chasing unicorns. Instead, take the least bad option. In politics, that’s a difficult pill to swallow at times. But it’s necessary to maintain some semblance of normalcy in our political culture. The all-or-nothing approach doesn’t work.