Tucker Carlson and the GOP gubernatorial nomination in Virginia

Carlson and Youngkin

Businessman Glenn Youngkin won the Republican nomination for Virginia’s 2021 gubernatorial election on Monday. He isn’t the candidate who said Donald Trump lost the 2020 election -- that’s former House Speaker Kirk Cox, who came in fourth at the state convention. He isn’t the candidate most closely associated with the former president -- that’s state Sen. Amanda Chase, who describes herself as “Trump in heels” and came in third. He isn’t the party insider -- that’s runner-up Pete Snyder, who served in top roles on the Virginia’s GOP coordinated campaign in 2012 and on the campaigns of the Republican gubernatorial nominees in 2013 and 2017.

What the political neophyte Youngkin brings to the table -- along with enough personal wealth amassed from a career in private equity to self-fund his campaign and an unparalleled commitment to the Big Lie that the 2020 election was rigged -- is skill at glomming onto a phony Fox News narrative and exploiting it for political gain.

On April 23, FoxNews.com ran a dubiously sourced story which claimed that Virginia’s Department of Education “is moving to eliminate all accelerated math options prior to 11th grade.” The story, framed as the latest clash over “controversial ideas surrounding equity and race,” went viral on social media and among right-wing outlets and received heavy coverage on Fox’s airwaves. But a few days later, The Washington Post reported based on an interview with Superintendent James Lane that Virginia “is not eliminating advanced high school mathematics courses.” According to Lane, the state was beginning a scheduled revision of math standards, and one proposal involved “rejiggering” some courses, but ending accelerated math was not on the table.

Every leading Republican gubernatorial candidate tried to take advantage of Fox’s story when it came out, issuing statements denouncing VDOE’s supposed plan to take away advanced math classes. 

But Youngkin went further than the others. On April 25, he called for the resignations of Lane and Deputy Superintendent Donald Fairheart, citing the FoxNews.com report. “Instead of putting our children in the fast lane for success, these policies are forcing them into the breakdown lane,” he said in a statement. “If Dr. Lane and his deputy have not resigned by the time I have taken office, I will fire them on the spot.”

That apparently caught the attention of Fox prime-time star Tucker Carlson, an influential force in GOP politics who hosts the right-wing network’s most-watched show. On May 4, just days before the Virginia state convention that decided the party’s nominee, he hosted Youngkin to discuss how Virginia “was a Republican state; now, it's a Democratic state and suddenly, it's very different,” citing the purported plan to end advanced math classes. 

The segment was a showcase for Youngkin. The candidate received a huge platform to run through his talking points on the accelerated math canard and other issues, lash out at Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and tout his own “enormous momentum on the campaign trail.” Carlson asked Youngkin just two questions -- “Why would the ruling party in your state destroy [education]?” and “How bewildered are you by the change that [Democrats] have wrought in such a short period?” -- before wishing the candidate “godspeed.”

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Citation From the May 4, 2021, edition of Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight.

(For some reason, the noted economic populist and scion of the Swanson’s Foods empire did not bring up Youngkin’s $200 million fortune garnered through a 25-year tenure at the Carlyle Group, a private equity giant from which he retired as co-CEO last year.)

Youngkin’s campaign blasted out the Carlson interview in a press release and repeatedly posted snippets from it on social media. Judging by his Twitter feed, a key facet of the campaign’s closing argument was that Youngkin is the candidate who went on Tucker Carlson Tonight

In a close contest fought among 30,000 party activists, that might have been enough to carry Youngkin over the top.