This month, Virginia’s GOP candidate for governor declined for a second time to face his opponent. The latest is a debate sponsored by AARP Virginia, called the People’s Debate, perhaps the largest and most widely viewed broadcast. Earlier in July, Glenn Youngkin opted out of another perennial debate sponsored by the Virginia Bar Association. The campaign declined because, in part it claimed, the named moderator would not be impartial, asserting that the journalist, Judy Woodruff, had made a $250 charitable donation a decade earlier to the Clinton Foundation’s project to provide earthquake relief to Haiti.
McAuliffe is a close friend and ally of the Clintons. Youngkin’s spokesperson did not acknowledge that the Haiti relief effort was co-chaired by George W. Bush, an adversary of former president Trump’s who had endorsed Youngkin in May 2021. With about 12 weeks until Election Day, Youngkn’s refusal to participate in prominent public appearances across from his opponent seems counterproductive, especially as his career and platform are that of an unknown quantity to the electorate.
What is known about the GOP candidate’s positions has been revealed in dribs and drabs during interviews. A public search reveals that, as governor, he plans to “combat anti-Semitism;” “eliminate the Virginia income tax;” “implement election integrity;” and “eliminate birth control” with a majority in the General Assembly, to name a few. However, by declining to appear at sponsored political debates, Youngkin invokes images of Clint Eastwood’s 2012 GOP convention interrogation of an empty chair. At that Tampa convention, Eastwood lectured the empty chair intended to represent President Barack Obama. Although Eastwood carried a national presence into the arena, his political experience extended only to a 2-year term as mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, 1986-88. The bit of political theatre he attempted was somewhat wooden and opaquely stagey.
Legend holds that the famed actor/director advised Romney’s team that he had no idea what he would say, rejecting any prepared speech material. He was inspired, as he later related, by the stool which an aide offered to him to be seated upon. Such is the stuff of political gamesmanship lore.
Few would attribute Romney’s loss to Obama to Eastwood’s performance, but the image remains in the politisphere. Characterized by some as a lecture, Eastwood’s presentation attempted to critique President Obama for promises made during his first term in office, including comments about closing Guantanamo, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the nation’s unemployment problem. The Tampa crowd roared its approval for the several covert eschatological remarks the performer attributed to the empty chair.
Unfortunately for Glenn Youngkin, his is the empty chair in plural. As vacuous as Clint Eastwood’s bit of mummery upon the political landscape was, the VA GOP hopeful’s debate declinations do little to attract voter attention and, worse, may have the effect of a lack of courage on the part of the candidate. Diss me once, shame on me; diss me twice, shame on you. . . . The electorate is far more sensitive than campaigning politicians give them credit for.
Unfortunately for Glenn Youngkin, his is the empty chair in plurality. As vacuous as Clint Eastwood’s bit of mummery upon the political landscape was, the VA GOP hopeful’s debate declinations do little to attract voter attention and, worse, may have the effect of a lack of courage on the part of the candidate. Diss me once, shame on me; diss me twice, shame on you.
The electorate is far more sensitive than campaigning politicians give credit While the Virginia Bar Association dismissal was alleged to be based upon some rationale, however tenuous, the AARP Virginia recusal did not even receive the courtesy of a reason. Repetition of an empty chair by a candidate may easily be perceived by voters as disinterest on the part of an empty suit, someone puffed up with his own importance but having little effect upon the lives of others.