|L to r - Frank Wagner, Cory Stewart and Ed Gillespie|
On June 13, 2017, voters in Virginia will select the Republican and Democratic candidates for their respective gubernatorial campaign standard bearers. On the Democrat side, we have Lt. Governor Ralph Northam - who I support - and false progressive Tom Perrirllo (a future post will look at Perriello's dishonesty). On the Republican side, the candidates are Cory Stewart, Ed Gillespie and Senator Frank Wagner. With the exception of Wagner, the other GOP candidates - Stewart and Gillespie - are in the final analysis indistinguishable. Yes, Stewart openly courts withe supremacists and neo-Confederates while Gillespie does not. However, if Gillespie is elected, he will follow the dictates of The Family Foundation - Virginia's leading hate group - and the day to day differences between him and Stewart will be indistinguishable. Wagner is less extreme and certainly less racist and less inclined toward bigotry than his primary opponents . Whether Wagner could win is doubtful. Thus, one is left with the likely choice being between Gillespie and Stewart. The reality is that either way, one will end up with the same reality of what today's Virginia Republican Party is really all about. Here are highlight from Politico on Stewart:
On April 24, as cities from New Orleans to Charlottesville were considering tearing down statues of Confederate heroes, a long-shot Republican candidate for Virginia governor penned his umpteenth tweet defending the honor of Dixie: “Nothing is worse than a Yankee telling a Southerner that his monuments don't matter.”
The tweet went viral. For Corey Stewart, whose political profile is high inside Prince William County, where he is chairman of the County Board of Supervisors, but considerably lower among the state’s Republican voters, this burst of notoriety would seem to have been helpful.
The only problem was that the attention was almost entirely negative. Stewart’s ratio of unfavorable replies to favorable retweets and favorites was horrendous: more than 3 to 1. At least four national political reporters noted that Stewart, was in fact, born in Duluth, Minnesota, making him much more of a Yankee than a son of the South.
But what others saw as a PR disaster, was from Stewart’s perspective an unqualified success. This explains why over the three months of the campaign, Stewart, 48, has tweeted numerous times about issues that would appear to concern only the most entrenched neo-Confederate. He has relentlessly criticized the city of Charlottesville for its plan to tear down a statue of General Robert E. Lee in one of the city’s major parks, and rename parks named after Lee and Stonewall Jackson.
When he hasn’t lamented the shoddy treatment of Southern heritage, he has compared the politicians who support removing statues to ISIS, the murderous Islamic extremists who have destroyed historic artifacts and religious sites throughout Syria. Or suggested that George Soros “needs to be tried for sedition, stripped of his citizenship or deported.” Or labeling his main opponent a “cuckservative,” the disdainful epithet of choice among the alt-right.
In short, Corey Stewart, who was Donald Trump’s Virginia campaign chairman (more on that later), has made a calculated decision to copy the playbook that worked for Trump in large parts of the country. Though he lacks Trump’s money and universal name identification, two things Stewart’s leading opponent Ed Gillespie has a leg up on, Stewart thinks he can make up for it with outrageousness. This bold gambit is not something Stewart is ashamed of discussing.
Stewart’s roots as a Trump clone go back to his service as the top government official in a fast-growing, now majority-minority county in Northern Virginia. In the mid-2000s, he unleashed a crackdown on illegal immigration that earned him a reputation as a crusader among conservatives and as racist demagogue among Democrats and the area’s media. The Washington Post’s editorial board, back in 2007, labeled him a “grandstander and an opportunist who would bring tumult down on the county” and said he had made Prince William “Virginia's Capital of Intolerance.”
Stewart’s strategy to gain attention (and desperately needed campaign cash) would seem to be make perfect sense, except for one thing: It didn’t work for Trump. At least not in Virginia.
The state is no longer the Old South—it’s just 62 percent non-Hispanic white. Its traditional political event, Shad Planking, has dropped the Confederate flags and rebranded itself as the Shad Planking and Grapes and Grains Festival, bringing Virginia wine to match the traditional whiskey. Neither Democratic gubernatorial candidate attended, nor did Gillespie. A Stewart supporter flew a plane carrying the Confederate flag over the event, prompting some of Stewart’s county allies to drop their endorsements.
Second, Trump didn’t win Virginia. Stewart was Trump’s state campaign chairman until he was fired for protesting outside the Republican National Committee when it appeared national Republicans might drop Trump after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tapes where the president discussed committing sexual assault. He blames a lack of investment in the state for the loss.
In the GOP primary, a Quinnipiac University poll shows Stewart trailing Gillespie, 28 percent to 12 percent. A majority voters are undecided, and Stewart notes he’s doing much better among voters who call themselves “very conservative” and identify as Evangelical. In polls of possible general election matchups, however, both Democratic candidates—Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam and former Representative Tom Perriello—are leading Stewart by double digits.
But his newfound shtick is turning off key allies there. Glendell Hill, the county’s African-American sheriff, told the Washington Post he dropped his endorsement of Stewart because of “all that Confederate stuff.” Four of his fellow county board members also endorsed Gillespie after the flag stunt at Shad Planking.
“They’re afraid that I’ve gone so far to the right that association with me will be bad for their own political careers,” Stewart says by way of explanation. Stewart often uses support for Trump as a stand-in for conservatism.
Stewart has flirted with elements of the alt-right. He gave an interview to conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich and was once introduced at a rally to save the Lee statue in front of man holding a Pepe the Frog sign. The man who introduced him, Isaac Smith, is a 20-year-old activist who founded a group calling for “America First policies.” Among those proposed policies? That “most immigrants come from Western nations.”
[T]here were signs that Stewart might be about to answer his own question about whether his strategy of outrage has succeeded. A local television station was reporting he might drop out of the race. Stewart, always accessible, didn't pick up the phone Monday afternoon. Instead, he responded with a text: "Will make my statement tonight at 7 p.m. on Facebook Live."