But multiple people familiar with the dynamic said that while Trump hasn’t been told not to come, he hasn’t been invited to appear with Youngkin, either.
“Our campaign message embodies a personality-driven, local-issues-driven campaign, and we’re doing the same thing from a surrogate standpoint,” a Youngkin aide told POLITICO. “Glenn is at the top of the ticket and the race is between Youngkin and McAuliffe, despite what McAuliffe wants to make it about. Same from the surrogate standpoint.”
Top Democrats in recent weeks have privately conceded that their failed efforts to lure Trump for an in-person event could cost them support in Tuesday’s contest. McAuliffe allies and party officials acknowledged feeling worried that Youngkin might be getting the best of both worlds with Trump’s personal absence — benefiting with Republican voters for having what appears to be close associations with Trump (as emphasized by Democrats) while never appearing beside him in a way that could do political harm.
But for McAuliffe’s campaign and close allies, the statement from Trump teasing a possible upcoming visit was an 11th hour invitation to try to yank him back into the picture, coming just one day after Biden needled Youngkin for being “embarrassed” of Trump. The McAuliffe campaign immediately emailed reporters, stating definitively that “Donald Trump is coming to Virginia to campaign for his handpicked guy Glenn Youngkin.”
And McAuliffe aides told POLITICO the campaign raised $500,000 on Wednesday, considerably more than it has on an average day down the final stretch of the race.
“As of now, Donald Trump and his spokesman say he’s coming,” said Josh Schwerin, a Democratic strategist who has worked as a McAuliffe adviser, referring to Trump’s statements. “The fact that it’s even under consideration shows how much Youngkin relies on Trump’s support in his campaign, and every voter in the state should be aware of that.”
Schwerin suggested that Trump’s decision to tease an upcoming trip — whether because he took Democrats’ bait, is trying to exert his primacy over the Republican Party or is merely blowing smoke — forces Youngkin to reconcile with his lack of real independence as a candidate.
“If Trump comes to campaign for Glenn Youngkin, will Glenn Youngkin attend?” Schwerin asked, noting that Trump “doesn’t need his permission to come.”