Corey Stewart went on what can only be described a Herculean Twitter barrage against all enemies both real and perceived yesterday. He makes some good points and certainly uses the platform to take his frustrations out on people who question his support of Donald Trump and his integrity. The reaction has been interesting to watch because it is all too familiar. This is coming on the heels of two Trump Virginia aides denouncing Stewart as well as Ed Gillespie touting a poll showing him “ahead” and rolling out endorsement after endorsement.
It’s almost too unbelievable to see the parallels between the beginnings of this campaign and the one that was just concluded. And the same mistakes are being made by the same people. Ed Gillespie is making the same mistake all of Donald Trump’s GOP opponents made, they are running a campaign based on the old rules rather than the new rules. The old rules are building a campaign around fundraising and endorsements early to swim-move your way to the front of the line. This is what Jeb Bush attempted and Marco Rubio after him. In fact, the fact that Gillespie is already rolling out these endorsements this early should not be taken as a sign of strength, but a sign of concern. If he’s so far ahead and so popular within the party he shouldn’t need to be doing this so early to build his name up.
Apparently Republicans haven’t yet learned the lessons of Donald Trump’s (and Dave Brat’s) victory. The old ways of doing things are over. You win by crafting a message that resonates and motivates your base, using social media to connect directly with them while bashing the media and relying on large amounts of small donations as well as a small amount of wealthy benefactors to run your campaign. Endless fundraising and endorsements mean little to the average voter these days who don’t like or even respect most of the elected leaders in this country. Corey Stewart’s Twitter takedown of everyone from Gillespie to this very blog shouldn’t be taken as ramblings of a losing candidate, but a reminder of the power of social media to connect with your base and get your own narrative out without media filter. Unlike what the Virginia Trump advisors seem to think, it appears to me that Corey Stewart was very much involved in Trump’s campaign because he has learned it’s lessons well.
Two things further strike me about this race that should have Gillespie and his advisors on edge. First is the Quinnipiac poll and his team are trying to spin as evidence of momentum. The number that jumps out to me like fireball is the 57% of undecideds in the race. Given that Gillespie ran for the Senate two years ago and almost won and the fact that any Virginia Republican with a pulse knew he was running for governor the day after that Senate race it should be of great concern to his team that there are still that many undecideds. It could mean an opening for someone like Denver Riggleman, but it could also be fertile ground for Stewart’s Trumpian populist message. Also, why are you hyping a poll that shows you losing to Ralph Northam? Strange.
The second wild card in this race is something I’ve covered both on my Facebook page as well as here – RPV choosing a primary. On the surface, the primary vs. convention fight has been seen as a proxy war between the establishment who are pro-primary against grassroots conservatives who support conventions. I’ve always maintained that this divide wasn’t as clean as people thought it was. The grassroots biggest victory, Dave Brat defeating Eric Cantor, was done through the open primary process that the Establishment so loves. Meanwhile, Gillespie himself won his Senate nomination through a convention, as did Bob McDonnell in 2009 and Jim Gilmore in 2008. Conventions don’t favor conservatives, conventions favor those who run them. An RVP-led convention, especially with the state central committee made up as it is now, Gillespie would surely be the favorite. But now, Ed is putting his future in the hands of an open primary where anyone and everyone is free to vote and Stewart can work to get out those Trump voters who aren’t part of a party and would be less inclined to drag themselves to Richmond for a weekend-consuming convention. Not to mention Frank Wagner’s presence looming as an obstacle for Ed in Hampton Roads as well as parts of even Northern Virginia I’d wager. I said from day one a primary would only help Corey Stewart. In a convention you need 50% +1, in a primary you just need a plurality.
So the next time Corey Stewart goes a Twitter rant, it’s not because he’s unhinged. It’s because he knows that the rules of engagement have changed and he’s mastering these new rules faster than anyone else.