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Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Win or lose in today's Virginia governor's race, Glenn Youngkin has created a new template for Republican candidates running in competitive races in the Trump era.

Why it matters: Republicans, with swing states set to dictate Senate control in 2022, are scrambling to strike a balance — when Full Trump is too hot in swing states like Virginia, but Never Trump is too cold for the former president's rabid fans.

GOP strategists tell us Youngkin has shown five ways to navigate this squeeze:

  1. Embrace Trump tactics: Youngkin and his team were ruthless in torturing Democrat Terry McAuliffe with the words he most regrets: "I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach." That sentence, part of an answer about removing books from schools, is less controversial when you watch the whole clip, including McAuliffe's declaration: "I love teachers!" But top Democrats tell Axios McAuliffe was too slow to clean it up. Even this Sunday, McAuliffe told Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press": "[E]verybody clapped when I said it."
  2. Softly embrace Trump himself: Steer clear of criticizing him, but also steer clear of standing next to him or running as a knock-off. As Peggy Noonan put it in a Wall Street Journal column: "Don't insult Donald Trump but do everything to keep him away." Youngkin nailed this. He shunned the T-word, pro or con.
  3. Turn your opponent into a liberal Trump: Find words, actions, votes that paint Democrats — not your own party — as the wild, anti-democracy, close-minded ones. Youngkin found fertile ground in culture wars — mask requirements, transgender bathrooms and teaching on race — unfolding in Loudoun County, the exurban bellwether beyond D.C.'s Beltway.
  4. Use their power against them: Youngkin turned Biden's all-party control of Washington into a weapon. Youngkin fueled perceptions that Democrats have gone too far left for suburban parents and are captives of progressive elites.
  5. Don't say crazy things: This is another prong of Peggy Noonan's formula. Youngkin mostly avoided saying things independents — and suburban women — would find incendiary or insulting.

The bottom line: It's rare in politics that the state of the art — best practices for the way to win — changes notably. So the Virginia race will have big echoes in the '22 midterms and the '24 presidential race.

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Go deeper

Trump calls McConnell a "loser" before hanging up on NPR host

Photos: Saul Loeb, Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Former President Trump abruptly cut short an interview with NPR on Tuesday after being pressed about his false, baseless claims of election fraud in 2020 and lambasting Republicans who have spoken out against them.

Why it matters: The interview once again highlights the extent to which Trump is willing to turn against members of his own party if they do not back his unsupported claims.

The front-runners for Biden's Supreme Court pick

Judge Kentaji Brown Jackson (left) and Justice Leondra Kruger (right) Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images and Lonnie Tague, US Department of Justice

Two highly accomplished Black female judges — Ketanji Brown Jackson, a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals; and Leondra Kruger, a justice on the California Supreme Court — are seen as the early front-runners to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

The big picture: Jackson is a powerful federal judge with a record that progressives feel they can trust. Kruger was a highly regarded litigator and has carved out a reputation for working well with conservative judges.

Fed: Rate hikes are near

The Federal Reserve's headquarters building. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The Federal Reserve is on track to raise its main target interest rate in mid-March, as Chair Jerome Powell pledged to be "humble and nimble" in adapting policy to a fast-changing economy.

Why it matters: Fed leaders are looking to choke off inflation by raising interest rates in the near future, but keeping its options open for how fast and far the effort will go.