Jul 5, 2022 - Economy

Romney 2.0: Glenn Youngkin explores 2024 presidential run

Illustration of the Carlyle Group's logo looking like a pair of worried eyes next to the shadow of a hand pointing

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Glenn Youngkin, the former Carlyle Group co-CEO turned Virginia governor, is kicking tires on a 2024 presidential bid, as first reported by the Washington Post.

Why it matters: This could set up a replay of Mitt Romney's 2012 run, which caused his former colleagues at Bain Capital to grab for the jumbo bottle of Tums.

  • Consider that the stuff of nightmares for Carlyle, and for private equity more broadly.

State of play: Youngkin is nowhere close to announcing his candidacy. He's just in the megadonor meeting stage, trying to better read the room. But his underdog victory in Virginia was emboldening, and there's a pragmatic case for seeking higher office before establishing too much of a record in lower office (see Obama, Barack).

Flashback: Romney's 2012 presidential campaign was his second, having been bested four years earlier in the GOP primary by John McCain, but it was the one in which his private equity record was most deeply scrutinized. This was not only in the general election, but also when Republican rival Newt Gingrich pushed a 30-minute "documentary" about Romney's time at Bain.

  • Bain was initially caught a bit flat-footed by the scrutiny but soon would dedicate resources to researching Romney's history and discussing it with media members.
  • It was basically a shadow comms effort, as the Romney campaign itself was very late to hire spokespeople who understood how private equity works.

There are obviously a slew of differences between Youngkin today and Romney then, beyond the politics.

  • For example, private equity is now better understood by both the public and the media. It's also more ubiquitous, and Carlyle is a publicly traded firm (unlike Bain, which remains private).

What's the same, however, is that Carlyle should be praying that Youngkin either doesn't run or at least doesn't progress much past New Hampshire. And that even applies to firm staffers who like Youngkin personally and/or who support his policies.

  • One person with Bain in 2012 told me that it was the hardest year of his life, and others have expressed similar sentiments.
  • A private equity CEO from a different firm told me in a conference hallway that he hoped the experience would disabuse any other peer from making their own run, suggesting that it had created scrutiny far beyond Bain.

The bottom line: Carlyle, like every large private equity firm, has deals that went bad and other deals in which its actions can be justifiably criticized. Much of that remains under wraps, or at least within the confines of private meetings with limited partners. But a presidential campaign will bring it all out into the open, making Carlyle into a reluctant household name.

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