As the blood finally dries after the Presidential Republican Primary battles in Virginia, the next vicious civil war is already on the horizon. Primary battles for Governor, Attorney General, and Lieutenant Governor all pit various factions of the Republican Grassroots against one another. With emotions already heightened, raw, and excited, these next battles threaten to continue the fracturing of old and new alliances alike.
In the Governors’ race, the traditional grassroots and Republican Party donors have their candidate in Ed Gillespie. Gillespie has already done all the hard work to garner the support of the necessary activists requisite a formidable ground game. Gillespie also already has the fundraising structure in place and is ready to go into high speed at a moments notice. Gillespie’s organization, broad support, and name ID make him the most dangerous Republican Gubernatorial candidate for any Democrat to face in 2017.
However, Gillespie’s history as a Washington Insider and Lobbyist make him a symbol of everything the TEA Party and the conservative grassroots have fought against for years. No one seems to doubt Mr. Gillespie’s resume or character, but asking the conservative grassroots to trust a successful national lobbyist is simply more than any rational politico should expect.
Without Ken Cuccinelli in the race, the conservative grassroots do not have a dog in the fight. For myriad reasons, many in the conservative movement have turned to Trump Lieutenant and Prince William Supervisor Corey Stewart as an alternative to what they view as the more establishment candidate in Ed Gillespie. Oddly, the bad blood between Corey Stewart and Ken Cuccinelli does not seem to have caught on to Cuccinelli’s conservatives on the ground. Many are already lining up behind the populist firebrand and long time Trump advocate.
While sporting an impressive war chest for a member of a Northern Virginia Board of Supervisors member, Corey Stewart has no statewide Name ID. Ask anyone not intimately involved in Virginia politics who Corey Stewart is and you get nothing but blank stares and quizzical mouths. In addition to the fact that no one knows who Corey Stewart is, many conservatives, such as myself, find it impossible to get behind a leader of the new progressive populist movement within the Republican Party. While many of us will vote for Donald Trump as the Republican Nominee in November, we do not support Trump’s populism, brash tactics, or the burn-it-to-the-ground mentality of his supporters.
Thankfully, for those of us in that camp, Congressman Rob Wittman of Virginia’s 1st Congressional District is also running for Governor. Rob Wittman is now one of our senior Representatives in Congress and has elected experience on nearly every level of government. For those looking for a Governor who understands local government, there is no better choice than Congressman Wittman. That said, until the last few years, Congressman Wittman’s legislative record has been less than inspiring for those in the Conservative Grassroots.
Congressman Wittman has served faithfully, though quietly and without controversy. For conservatives, an inability to be controversial is tantamount to an inability to lead. Congressman Wittman has learned to “get things done” for his district in Washington D.C., another mark against him in conservative circles. In order to get things done, our Congressmen need to have good relationships with Party Leadership and in order to have good relationships with Party Leadership, Congressmen are required to vote in ways that offend die hard conservatives.
Congressman Wittman faces other challenges. Establishment Republicans who can imagine nothing more important than having senior representatives from their Virginia Delegation in Congress do not want to lose Congressman Wittman’s experience and relationships on The Hill. Therefore, regardless how much they may respect the Congressman, they are more likely to support Ed Gillespie, rather than lose what they view as an invaluable and safe seat in The House of Representatives.
What does this all mean?
It’s too early to be certain of anything. We do not even know for certain whether or not we’ll be nominating our Governor by primary or convention. With State Central evenly split between advocates of the two processes, one can only imagine that whatever final decision is made, it will surely have an impact on who’s in and who’s out come crunch time.
What we can be certain of, however, is that the battle between Stewart and Gillespie will be nasty, vitriolic, and a continuation of the emotionally charged battles fought over the last year. This, at a time when Republicans could really use a bit of deliberate unity as a break from the bloody battles we’ve stomached over the past two years. While further antipathy may be inevitable and necessary, it is certainly not beneficial.
For that reason, I do hope that Virginia Republicans will keep this in mind as we make our way through yet another primary season in 2017. Our divisions empower the Democrat Party. That’s not a judgment on my part. That’s a fact. If we must engage in bloody primary battles (and I admit that maybe we must), we must also decide to come together afterwards. This is a choice that we have demonstrated to one another over the last two years that we are unwilling to make as a party. If we continue to decide to constantly undermine each other after each primary season, then there is absolutely no hope that we’ll defeat any of the Democrats we face in 2017’s general elections.
I recommend a reevaluation of priority for members of all factions. We can continue to elect Democrats through our own vitriolic post-primary bickering or we can decide that we’ve had enough of Democrat governance in Virginia, lay down our arms after our own battles have been decided, and choose to elect Republicans in November.
That same choice is before us this year as well, though I do not believe Virginia is yet ready to stomach any mature suggestions at present. There are still too many open wounds and too much disgust all around to hope for unity before summers’ end.