It seemed like a deal any governor would love to tout, especially if he dreams of moving into the White House: 2,500 high-tech manufacturing jobs for an iconic American company in a struggling part of the state.
But this week, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia rejected a $3.5 billion proposal from Ford. battery manufacturer for electric vehicles about his partnership with a Chinese battery maker, saying he would not allow taxpayer money to be used to «recruit Ford as a front for China.»
The former chief executive’s decision stunned observers, leading many to see it as further evidence that Youngkin is preparing to run for president and trying to neutralize a potential line of attack on his past business ties to the communist country. (Virginia does not allow governors to serve consecutive terms, so Youngkin cannot seek re-election.)
“There is a logic to the politics of Youngkin’s decision,” said Liam Donovan, a Republican strategist and lobbyist. “He follows the prevailing China-tough sentiment within the party, showing a pugilistic side that the base craves but is otherwise absent from his personality, and seeks to turn a potential vulnerability, Youngkin’s business dealings, into an experience that informs your position. .”
Youngkin became a national Republican star in 2021 when he flipped the governorship of Virginia after a twelve-year drought for Republicans in which they failed to win a single statewide election.
The first-time candidate had spent 25 years with the Carlyle Group, rising to become its CEO as he helped to grow the private equity firm into a global powerhouse with billions in holdings in China, before leaving in 2020 ahead of his gubernatorial campaign.
“The governor’s record was largely spared from Romney-style attacks on private equity in 2021,” Donovan added, referring to the problem that helped sink Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. “But enemies will seek to exploit it. as he seeks the national stage, and is smart to define his career preemptively and on his own terms.»
While it could prove profitable for Youngkin in the future, critics today accuse him of putting his personal political ambition before the livelihood of his constituents.
“Shutting down negotiations on this bill made absolutely no sense to me or most of my colleagues,” said Sen. Scott Surovell, a Virginia Democrat who called the move “government negligence.” “This is an economically distressed part of our state that is hungry for jobs; 2,500 jobs would be manna from heaven.”
Virginia has long prided itself on being business-friendly, no matter which party is in power, and frequently ranks near the top of lists of best states for business. Former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe loved to joke with his out-of-state colleagues about stealing his businesses and jobs.
Now, Michigan is looking to win by losing Virginia, and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer tells the Detroit News that Youngkin’s “political determination” created an “exciting opportunity” for his state.
Ford had been considering competing offers from Michigan and a site outside Danville, Virginia, where local officials had spent years and millions of dollars trying to lure a major manufacturer with tax breaks that are common practice in economic development deals. .
The conservative Daily Caller first broke the news Youngkin’s decision to drop his state from the race, which came after the site criticized Ford’s plan to “help China get US tax breaks.”
“The only explanation I can see for leaking this to the Daily Caller and saying, ‘We don’t want this project because of the Chinese connections,’ is that the governor is in some kind of China-bashing competition with Ron DeSantis and Greg. Abbott,” Surovell said, referring to the Republican governors of Florida and Texas, who are also considering a run for president.
All Three governors have moved recently to bar Chinese companies from buying farmland and other assets in their states, and Youngkin said in a speech last week that “Virginians, not the CCP, should own the rich and vibrant farmland with which God has blessed us.»
And like the federal government, Youngkin banned TikTok on government-issued phones over data security concerns, saying «everyone knows that TikTok is a tool of the Chinese Communist Party,» even though Carlyle Group owns a large stake. on the parent platform of the social network. company, which he acquired after his departure.
Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said in a statement that while «Ford is an iconic American company,» the joint venture was «a front» for the Chinese company, one of the world’s leading battery manufacturers, so allowing it to continue «could compromise our economic security and the personal privacy of Virginians.»
“I hope to bring a great company there,” Youngkin told Bloomberg TV on Friday. «It won’t be one that uses some kind of Trojan horse relationship with the Chinese Communist Party.»
With his personal rags-to-riches story, the energy of a suburban dad, and careful triangulation of politics, Youngkin in his 2021 campaign found a winning formula that managed to keep voters loyal to former President Donald Trump engaged without alienating the professional class moderates.
Youngkin has been trying to bring that formula nationally, making frequent appearances on Fox News and other national outlets as he traveled the country last year to defend conservative midterm candidates.
As concerns about China grow within the Republican Party, Trump, who endorsed Youngkin’s gubernatorial bid but never appeared in person to support him, has already hinted that he believes the governor is vulnerable in China.
“Young Kin (that’s an interesting interpretation. Sounds Chinese, right?),” Trump said in a series of posts on Truth Social in November, criticizing the governor for distancing himself from Trump a bit. “I endorsed him, I did a big Trump Rally for him on the phone, I got MAGA to vote for him, or he couldn’t have come close to winning.”
Youngkin’s work on Carlyle was overshadowed by other issues during his gubernatorial campaign, but rival Democrats and Republicans are already preparing to put him front and center if he decides to run for president, especially as China has become increasingly autocratic in recent years.
As other Western companies have started pulling out of China, Carlye says it’s committed to the countrywith the head of its Asia division telling a trade publication in September that it is «actively leaning” to China and enjoy having less competition.
“Carlyle makes a lot of money from China,” said Surovell, the Democratic state senator. «If it’s good enough for him to make his $400 million fortune, I don’t see why he’s not good enough for one of the most financially distressed parts of our state.»