Former President Donald Trump made a brief cameo Monday night in Glenn Youngkin's campaign for governor of Virginia, telling voters that the Republican is a "fantastic guy" who will "do a job like nobody can do."
The comments came not during a long and winding speech at a rally like the ones Trump typically holds to promote himself and other GOP candidates but, rather, in an 11-minute telephone call.
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Youngkin, who has not campaigned alongside Trump in a state that President Joe Biden won by a wide margin in 2020, faces Democrat Terry McAuliffe, the commonwealth's former governor who is seeking a return to the job, in Tuesday's election. The former private equity executive did not participate in Monday's call, billed as a "tele-rally." But Trump spoke as if he and Youngkin are longtime pals.
"I've gotten to know him so well and our relationship is great," Trump told listeners. "The fake news media would like to say something else, because they'd like our big, giant, beautiful base like there's never been before to not vote as much as they're going to. We have a great relationship and he's a fantastic guy."
McAuliffe and his Democratic allies have spent months tying Youngkin to Trump, and though they share views on policy and some cultural issues, Youngkin has kept the former president at a cautious distance. Virginia's race for governor — routinely held the year after a presidential election — is always closely watched and viewed as a harbinger for the following year's midterm elections.
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Trump last week teased a possible appearance in Virginia before the election, but settled for the virtual event. A spokesperson did not respond to a question about how many dialed in for the call.
After a brief introduction by Mercedes Schlapp, a Virginia resident who served in Trump's White House as director of strategic communications, the former president spoke for about six minutes.
"Glenn Youngkin is a Republican candidate," Trump said at one point. "And you have so many other great people running, but he's your leader. He's your big Republican leader in Virginia and they're going to listen to him, and they're going to respect him, and you're going to see things happen in Richmond that you wouldn't have believed, especially with regard to taxes and your children's education."
At another point, Trump returned to a claim he made repeatedly in his losing re-election bid: that Democrats want to “abolish the suburbs,” a phrase that echoes segregationist rhetoric.
"Terry McAuliffe, as you know, he's embraced the far left's plan to abolish and he will literally abolish the suburbs as you know them today," Trump said. "I fought very hard to help the suburbs and did very well in that regard, but they want to build and do things. ... They want to ban single family home zoning and turn beautiful residential neighborhoods into apartment towers. It's the wrong thing and it's going to change your suburbs forever."
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Trump also hit on "critical race theory," a phrase Youngkin and other Republicans have seized while protesting against what they see as anti-white curriculum in public schools. Youngkin has attacked McAuliffe for vetoing bills in his previous term as governor that would have allowed parents to opt their children out of lessons involving books deemed to have sexually explicit content. The book at the heart of that debate was "Beloved," Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the horrors of slavery.
"He actually said, 'I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should be teaching,'" said Trump, slightly altering a McAuliffe debate response that Youngkin has hammered him with in the race's closing weeks. "Well, that means all of those school boards that are instilled and installed are listening to a lot of angry parents. And we don't want that. We want there to be harmony and peace."
McAuliffe, whose team has been counting the number of times Trump has endorsed Youngkin in public comments, used Trump's involvement in the campaign's final days to reinforce his principal attack.
“Glenn Youngkin’s campaign will close today just like it started: with Donald Trump," McAuliffe said in a statement earlier Monday. "The one thing Glenn has been upfront with Virginians is about his total allegiance and full embrace of Donald Trump’s agenda and dangerous lies."