|Washington Post: Column: Ed Gillespie goes off the deep end, increases GOP’s unacceptability in Virginia
By Jennifer Rubin
The Post reports:
Ed Gillespie hired a blunt-spoken veteran of Donald Trump’s campaign and sharpened his rhetoric on Confederate monuments in recent days, as the establishment Republican running for Virginia governor seeks to win over Trump voters.
Gillespie has hired Jack Morgan, Trump’s Southwest Virginia field director, to play a similar role for his campaign. . . .
In an email to supporters this week, he was no longer calling for conversation.
“Spending scarce tax dollars on very costly stature removals instead of improving schools and roads or increasing pay for teachers and police is not the right priority for Virginians,” it said. “Democrat Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam has promised to do everything he can if he is elected governor to remove Virginia’s Confederate monuments and statues. Add your name if you agree with Ed Gillespie that these statues should stay right where they are and we should teach history — NOT erase it.”
This is as repulsive as it is predictable. The former lobbyist and former adviser to President George W. Bush had already hardened his stance on immigration to keep up with Trump Republicans. Then came his near-loss in the GOP primary to Corey A. Stewart, who beat the drum (with Morgan’s help) on the Confederate statue issue. The politically expedient move, Gillespie seems to have concluded, is to nail down his base and make certain those Stewart voters turn out in November.
Expedient does not mean smart, however. For starters, who believes the man who served as an adviser to Bush 43 and to Mitt Romney (on his 2012 presidential run) and who helped steer middle-of-the-road former governor Robert F. McDonnell to office by presenting him as a moderate really thinks the Confederate statues need to stay up to remind Virginia of its history? The notion that he’s really a Corey Stewart Republican — as he tries to campaign on a forward-looking economic agenda — is going to give voters whiplash.
Moreover, Republicans’ problem in Virginia in statewide races is that they are increasingly out of step with the moderate voters, white-collar workers, government employees and minorities who populate Northern Virginia counties. That population now dwarfs GOP strongholds in the southern and western parts of the state. Republican candidates who run up huge deficits in votes in Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Arlington counties simply cannot make up the votes elsewhere. That’s why McDonnell was the last Republican to win a statewide race.
Now Gillespie is giving those Northern Virginia voters — Republicans included — every reason to run the other way. They do not think of themselves as sons and daughters of the South; they are socially liberal or moderate and fully engaged in the information economy. Gillespie is making himself into a political Neanderthal from their perspective.
No wonder Virginia’s state Democratic Party leaped at the change to bash Gillespie. Kevin Donohoe, Democratic Party of Virginia spokesman, told me, “For eighteen days, Ed Gillespie has refused to condemn Donald Trump’s shameful reaction to the violence in Charlottesville. Now, Gillespie is proving just how willing he is to pander to Corey Stewart extremists by trying to fundraise off of this issue.” He continued, “Gillespie has plenty to say to win over the neo-Confederate wing of the Republican Party but little to say when it comes to condemning President Trump’s response to the tragedy in Charlottesville.” He points out that in a matter of less than three weeks Gillespie went from a weak stance inviting “discussion” on the issue and deferring to localities to make their own choices to full-throated assurances to voters in an email: “I’ve remained firm in opposing the removal of historical statues across our Commonwealth, and according to a recent public poll, a majority of Virginians agree with me.”
This in a nutshell is the story of the GOP in Virginia and the country at large. Too afraid to oppose race-baiters and white-grievance mongers such as Trump, they adopt a “If you can’t beat them, join them” attitude. In doing so, they forfeit their own integrity and make the entire party offensive to everyone else — even to those who might embrace some of their economic positions. If Trump can turn Ed Gillespie into a Confederate flag-waver, then the GOP really has lost any claim to be the Party of Lincoln.
Gillespie in all likelihood will lose his race in November. (He’s been trailing in the polls, and Trump’s approval rating is under 40 percent in the state.) And that perhaps can be a jumping-off point for those conservative and moderate Republicans who can no longer abide by what their party has become.