Virginia’s off-year gubernatorial election has thrust the state into the national spotlight. These off-year elections are often marked by low turnout, but Virginians showed up in force for democracy, a feat worthy of celebration. Glenn YoungkinGlenn YoungkinVirginia's new AG sacks lawyers at University of Virginia, George Mason Virginia's Youngkin gets the DeSantis treatment from media Los Angeles school district to require students to wear 'non-cloth masks with a nose wire' MORE’s victory is sending Democrats into a frenzy to understand how they lost a state trending blue for the last decade, while GOP leaders are looking for lessons to replicate elsewhere next year.
But for Youngkin and his team, what matters now is governing.
As former Republican governors of traditionally blue states, we understand the demands of the job, and the somber obligation to put the needs of your state above petty partisanship. As Republicans who have stood against the lies, conspiracies, and hatred of Trumpism, we also understand the political pressures — and even threats of violence — that are aimed to subvert those duties.
Youngkin will be tested by the fringes and extremes in his base. How he responds to those pressures will determine his success as governor. That is why we in the Renew America Movement humbly offer our advice to the governor-elect:
First, your job starts now. What you do and say matters, even if you haven’t taken the oath of office. Start by defending the legitimacy of our elections, the integrity of election workers, and validity of the laws governing both.
You have called for audits of Virginia’s election systems, despite the fact that such audits are already conducted in the state. We urge you to push back against conspiracy theorists who believe Donald TrumpDonald TrumpHeadaches intensify for Democrats in Florida Stormy Daniels set to testify against former lawyer Avenatti in fraud trial Cheney challenger wins Wyoming Republican activists' straw poll MORE’s election lies. One of the best ways to do so is by defending the integrity of Virginia’s elections — the same system that has elected you to office.
You are now responsible for the state’s 2024 election, where Trump is likely to run. The pressure to “find votes,” invalidate results, or otherwise undermine democracy will be immense. We encourage you to spend the next few years defending Virginia’s 2020 and 2021 election results, instilling confidence in them and openly confronting and rebuking conspiracies.
Second, endeavor to be a unifying leader. It’s trite to say that America is divided, but it is also true. Virginia is perhaps symbolically situated at the center of that rift. A once-swing state that had turned blue has swung again. The very blue north and deeply red south are often at odds. The state’s prolonged grappling with the Confederacy, slavery and racism is a perpetual flash point, and a mob of white supremacists has made Charlottesville synonymous with racist violence in America.
You must vocally reject the facile narratives on racism that have entered the political discourse, especially when it comes to education. Virginia doesn’t need to return to the “Lost Cause” or rebuild statues to Robert E. Lee. There may be valid questions about how slavery and racism are discussed in schools, but if you follow the path of populist firebrands who have legislated away free discourse in the classroom, you will do a disservice to Virginia’s students and drive a deeper wedge between its people. We know you will be under intense pressure from your base and the legislature to do exactly that, but this is an issue where political courage must prevail over short-term political gain.
Lastly, you should shape your state party for the better. Do not let it shape you for the worse.
State Republican Parties across the country have lurched further and further towards the extremes. In Virginia, the party even went so far as to rewrite its primary election rules to excise members who don’t share fringe views. That fear of a primary from the right has driven numerous national Republicans to compromise their beliefs and give voice to conspiracies they know are wrong, just to protect their power.
But you are the governor for all of Virginia, not a servant of the state party you now lead. If Republicans are to regain their footing in the state, it will not come from the radical fringes. It must come from principled leaders who can live up to our highest expectations for public servants. It is ok to sometimes say “No” to your party. In fact, it will almost certainly be necessary. And if you are unafraid to display your independence, Virginia and America will take note.
Our party has been corrupted by Trumpism.
Some believe the Youngkin campaign charted a new path away from the former president, while others worried you did not distance yourself sufficiently from him and his vitriolic brand of politics.
How you govern will determine which of the two sides was right, but only one approach will be right for Virginia. The Commonwealth needs a governor who will respect the rule of law and won’t chase populist appeals or fan the flames of culture wars for personal gain. You could be that governor, but the decision to do so must be made now.
Christine Todd Whitman, president of the Whitman Strategy Group, was administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and governor of New Jersey.
Bill WeldWilliam (Bill) WeldMassachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker won't seek reelection Youngkin should blaze a post-Trump trail for the GOP The Memo: What now for anti-Trump Republicans? MORE was a two-term governor of Massachusetts and former assistant U.S. attorney general for the criminal division.