Stewart, whose hard-edged attacks on illegal immigration and support for Confederate monuments led him to almost beat eventual GOP gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie in the June primary, said Wednesday that Republicans will keep losing unless they embrace the populism that propelled Trump into the presidency.
"If I had been the nominee or if Ed Gillespie had embraced the president," Republicans would have won, Stewart said at a small press conference in Washington Wednesday afternoon. "Ed treated the president as if he had typhoid."
Stewart, who often boasted he was "Trump before Trump was Trump," said the Republicans, Democrats and media are incorrectly assuming Tuesday's election was a repudiation of Trump.
Both state Sen. Jill Vogel (Fauquier), the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor, and John Adams, the Republican nominee for attorney general, had outpolled Gillespie by 50,000 votes and 30,000 votes, respectively, he noted.
Both campaigned with Stewart, hired former Trump strategists and talked up President Trump on the campaign trail. Gillespie struggled to strike the right approach to Trump and did not want the prefind
The losses of the top ticket, as well as the Democratic takeover of at least 15 seats in the House of Delegates, means that state party chair John Whitbeck should surrender his post, Stewart said.
Whitbeck could not be immediately reached for comment.
Stewart, who is planning to run for the GOP nomination to challenge Sen. Tim Kaine (D) next year, pointed to himself as the answer.
"I think that Republicans arround the state are looking to me for leadership at this point," he said, adding that Gillespie and Whitbeck had failed to inspire the party faithful.
Gillespie struggled to strike the right approach to Trump. He needed to attrach white, rural Trump supporters in the southern part of the state who voted for Trump without alienating moderates and independents in northern Virginia who oppose Trump.
He studiously tried to avoid reacting to the daily barrage of Trump controversies, largely bypassing the mainstream press in favor of appearances before friendly groups he could later trumpet on social media.
But from his initial emphasis on the economy and taxes, Gillespie steered toward illegal immigration and Confederate statues — a strategy that Stewart promoted and polling suggests helped Gillespie firm up support among Trump voters.
He rolled out a series of controverisal ads in September that appeared to link Northam to violent Latino street gangs.
But it was clear that the candidate never really believed in that message, Stewart said.
"If Ed's stump speech had reflected what he was saying in the ads at the end, it would have changed the result," Stewart asserted. "It's very different when the top of the ticket is weighing down the rest of the ticket."
Stewart said he didn't believe he will face competition within the party to become the GOP Senate nominee next year.
"When your house burns down, it's a bad thing, but I think it's also an opportunity for rebuilding," he said.