No doubt about it. Virginia Republicans suffered a blow last Tuesday. I’ll leave it to the professional pundits to dissect and analyze the statistics, while I offer a few observations about GOP Party infrastructure in the Commonwealth.
There is no GOP Party infrastructure in the Commonwealth. If it exists, it’s neither visible nor effective.
Out-of-date mailing lists, stagnant donor groups, uninspiring meetings, snarky infighting are not the building blocks of a strong foundation. Add to that murky mix incoherent messaging and you have a recipe for disaster.
This past year demonstrated how crippled the GOP has become in Virginia. Two events helped to precipitate its near demise: the sudden and inexplicable resignation of Republican Party Chairman John Whitbeck and the creation of the Suburban Virginia Republican Coalition (also known as the SUV GOP) in northern Virginia.
John Whitbeck served as Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia from 2015 until July this year. Throughout his tenure as Party standard-bearer, he was unable to craft a clear, irresistible message to swell the ranks. His online attempts at fundraising were incoherent. John always was quick to blame others for a dysfunctional Party, rather than seek a way to enact real reform in the way the RPV is organized. John’s ultimate betrayal was abandoning the Party faithful and GOP candidates during a highly contentious election cycle, when he suddenly announced his resignation last July. Virginia Republicans were effectively without leadership heading into the November elections. It was every candidate for himself/herself.
The second pivotal event this year was the election of Tim Hannigan as Chairman of the sizable Fairfax County Republican Committee (FCRC). Tim was the “outside” candidate, outside the confines of the Establishment. He was overwhelmingly elected to breathe new life into the organization. But his task was made all the more difficult by the duplicitous departure of the Old Guard who had led the FCRC in the past. That Old Guard included Tim’s defeated opponent Mike Ginsberg and many former precinct captains and district chairs, some of whom took email and donor lists with them, and refused to share them with Tim’s new volunteers. This group formed the Suburban Virginia Republican Coalition (SUV GOP); they abandoned the FCRC and never looked back.
The SUV GOP was Barbara Comstock’s reelection apparatus. They visibly and purposefully separated themselves from the FCRC. Shortly after Tim Hannigan’s election, they launched their own website, held their own fundraisers, set up their own tables at farmers’ markets and polling locations. Barbara Comstock appeared just ONCE in seven months at an FCRC meeting before election day, and only to promote herself without taking any questions before leaving the auditorium. Her valuable time was spent with the SUV GOP.
Virginia Republicans were represented by some very good candidates this year. But the candidates received no support (financial or otherwise) from the Party because there was no one at the helm with resources to give them support. And in northern Virginia, we had a Republican Member of Congress ignoring her Party’s designated organization (FCRC) to promote her own reelection effort (SUV GOP).
All of this being said, I am not blind to the political and demographic shifts in the Commonwealth, especially in northern Virginia. But when we have no Party messaging around which candidates and voters can unite, no Party infrastructure capable of identifying and supporting candidates and attracting new membership, and are hobbled by sophomoric infighting, how can we win elections?
So where do we go from here? I offer two suggestions.
First, that a respected, politically savvy Virginia resident step forward or be drafted to lead a thorough re-examination of the RPV mission and organization. This person must be someone of unquestioned integrity and serious intellect, who burns with a desire to unite conservatives, liberals and libertarians within the GOP around a compelling message that is both inspirational and practical.
Second, we need a revitalized Republican Party of Virginia. Running the Party out of the backrooms in Richmond is antiquated and destructive to its future promise. It is past time for the Republican Party of Virginia to become a professional organization, capable of articulating an inspiring message, attracting Virginians to its mission, helping qualified candidates to victory, and ensuring that we Virginians can engage in a viable, competitive political arena.
Who will step forward to take the challenge?