A donor-driven effort to draft Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin for president got fresh attention on Thursday, when CBS News correspondent Robert Costa reported that supporters would “push, if not shove” Youngkin at a late October retreat.
“He appears to be leaving the door open,” billionaire brokerage firm founder Thomas Peterffy told Costa. The reporter detailed the “slapdash scheme” to find another last-second Trump challenger in a 1900-word Washington Post article.
Panic-driven draft campaigns are nothing new: Mike Bloomberg entered the 2020 Democratic primary in late November, skipping the first four contests and making a bad bet that he could sweep Super Tuesday. Mitt Romney’s early struggles in 2012 helped draw in Rick Perry, who initially led national polls before being dragged down by a series of poor debate performances. Chris Christie turned down donor entreaties to run during the same cycle.
Peterffy’s effort has been particularly Ahab-like. He gave $1 million to Youngkin’s Spirit of Virginia PAC in April, when he began to worry that Ron DeSantis wouldn’t run a strong challenge to Trump. He called Youngkin his “ideal candidate” in June and then gave again in August, as polling showed that the Virginia governor could win his state in a Biden match-up but would significantly trail Trump in a primary.
Youngkin, who told Fox News that the speculation was “humbling,” has plowed Peterffy’s money into the best-funded Virginia GOP campaign in history. Flipping two state senate seats in November would give Republicans control of the chamber, and let Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears advance stalled priorities like a 15-week abortion limit.
Peterffy’s political spending has raised eyebrows before. In 2012, the Hungarian immigrant spent nearly $10 million on TV ads where he personally warned viewers that the socialist revolution that took his country was “happening here.” At the time, Peterffy said he considered himself too moderate to donate to more established GOP groups; more recently he’s cited Ron DeSantis’ social conservatism as a reason he won’t bankroll his run as well.
Trump campaign strategist Chris LaCivita responded to the new Youngkin speculation with three letters: “l o l.”
Election analyst Nate Silver thinks donors are not looking rationally at Youngkin’s prospects. “I don’t understand what parallel universe these guys are living in,” he tweeted. “Trump has lots of well-credentialed challengers (Haley, DeSantis, Pence). The issue is that the GOP electorate really likes Trump, not that they all just so happen to be the wrong guy/gal.”