Richmond, VA — With less than one month until the GOP convention, Virginia Republicans are mired in a brutally divisive primary defined by far-right extremism and vicious intraparty attacks. As the Republican candidates scramble to win over the pro-Trump activists who will decide the convention, new reporting from The Boston Globe shows just how extreme this primary has shaped up to be.
See key excerpts below and read the full report here.
The Boston Globe: ‘Do you have to go a little crazy to stop the ones that are crazier?’ Virginia’s governor’s race is a window into the GOP’s turmoil
By Jess Bidgood
Amanda Chase thinks some Republicans are afraid of her, and she is probably right. [...]
“I said, the 2020 presidential election was stolen,” she told a county GOP meeting here last week, ticking off the reasons why she was recently censured by the state Senate in the chipper tone other politicians use to explain why people like them.
She spoke proudly of her COVID denials and her swiftly rebuked claim that state Senator Jennifer McClellan, a Democratic candidate for governor who is in the leadership of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus, could not represent “all Virginians.” [...]
Chase, 51, is the most extreme candidate in the top tier of a messy Republican nominating contest that has so far been defined by charges of election-rigging, threats of potential third-party bids, and a field-wide effort to appeal to the supporters of former president Donald Trump. That outreach comes even after he lost this state by about 10 points in November and in the process extended the drought for the Virginia GOP, whose candidates haven’t won statewide since 2009. [...]
The state party has engineered a complex nominating process that will require its nominee to get at least half of the vote — a move Chase and political analysts believe was designed to stop her from winning a crowded primary, although party officials deny that. She has a stylistic foil in the race in Kirk Cox, an ardent conservative and former House speaker who has approached Trump more gingerly and tries to tout crossover appeal. But it is not clear whether voters in today’s GOP will be persuaded by any candidate that embraces Trump’s rhetoric without delivering the full package.
“There’s an ongoing battle in the Republican Party between the governing wing and the populist wing,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster who is based in Alexandria. “[Virginia] has the potential to nominate a serious contender, in what remains a swing state, depending on the candidate.”
“It also has the potential to go the way of the California Republican Party, with swing voters deserting the party in droves and leaving an extremely conservative core that couldn’t elect a Republican statewide candidate for dogcatcher,” Ayres said.
Virginia’s gubernatorial nominee will be chosen in a complex, 37-site convention on May 8 in which only people vetted by the party officials can participate. The elaborate process will use ranked-choice voting to ensure the winner gets more than 50 percent of the vote.
“As Republicans, at least when you talk about voter suppression, we’re consistent,” said a wry Tom Davis, a former Republican congressman from the vote-rich Northern Virginia suburbs, which swung further left during the Trump years. “I think they did it because they were afraid that Amanda Chase, Trump in high heels, would win a multicandidate field.”
The new format will not incentivize moderation in what is effectively a blue state, since only the most dedicated party activists are likely to jump through the hoops necessary to vote.
“I want to see a candidate who defends President Trump’s policies, which I think are really inextricable from President Trump himself,” said Patti Lyman, the Republican National Committeewoman for Virginia, who denied the claims that party officials had Chase in mind when they decided to hold a convention.
Along with Chase and Cox, there are two multimillionaires in the Republican race. Pete Snyder has racked up endorsements from people in Trump’s orbit like former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Ken Cuccinelli, the hard-right former Virginia attorney general and Trump immigration official. The second, businessman Glenn Youngkin, cut an ad to highlight how Trump once thanked him. And there is a handful of lesser-known candidates.
“Do you have to go a little crazy to stop the ones that are crazier? That’s the issue that Republican politicians have,” mused Denver Riggleman, a former Virginia Republican congressman who was ousted last year by party activists who saw him as insufficiently conservative. He said he thought he would mount a third-party bid if Chase prevails.
No matter who wins, Riggleman said, the field is a clear signal that Republicans who see embracing Trump as their path back to power have the upper hand over those who view him as a liability for the party — even in a state he lost twice.
“The ones who think that Trump shouldn’t be embraced are the radicals now,” Riggleman said. “I think we’re fact-based pariahs.” [...]
[Kirk] Cox is the only top-tier Republican candidate in the race to clearly say that President Biden legitimately won the November election. When asked if it is better for candidates in Virginia to embrace Trump or keep their distance, Cox said it is “better for a Republican in the state to run as themselves.” But, in a sign of Trump’s sway over the field, Cox has also supported the Trump-inspired push for new voting restrictions, praising Georgia’s restrictive new voting law in a recent radio interview. [...]
In response to a question from a voter named Robert Stuber, Chase said she would support the nominee if it wasn’t her — unless it’s Snyder, a candidate she has accused of trying to rig the convention. She has said she would mount a third-party bid if he wins in a process she thinks was unfair. [...]
Chase is bullish on her chances at the convention.
“My supporters are hard-core Trump supporters … they’ll go anywhere or do anything to vote for their candidate,” she said, adding that her red and white campaign gear is flying off the shelves. “I mean, they’re buying my campaign crap, you know?”
“The RINOs, the never-Trumpers, I think they’re over in the fetal position, but that’s just not how I am,” she said. “I want to make people proud to be a Republican again.”