Republican Party of Virginia chairman John Whitbeck thinks Republicans need a new commandment.
In a weekend email to the party faithful, Whitbeck noted that Virginia Republicans had gone 0-7 in statewide contests since 2012, a losing streak he called “totally unacceptable.”
A little history lesson on California GOP chairman Gaylord Parkinson’s 11th Commandment — “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican” — with a proposal for a 12th Commandment: “Thou shalt support the Republican nominee.”
If you think this of this seems out of place in the Age of Trump, where tearing down opponents of either party is quickly rising to an art form, you aren’t alone. But Virginia Republicans suffer from a variety of the infighting that plagued the California GOP in the 1960s, but, because of Virginia’s unique political calendar, the infighting here goes on every year.
So far, 2017 shows signs it will follow the script.
Ed Gillespie, the front-runner for the GOP nomination for governor, is on the receiving end of a nearly ceaseless stream of invective from laggard Corey Stewart on abortion, property rights, gun rights and much more.
Sen. Frank W. Wagner (Virginia Beach) took a shot at Gillespie, too, criticizing the one-time Republican Party of Virginia chairman for “hiding in the weeds” when the president announced his executive order on immigration.
“[P]utting your finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing is not leadership, Ed,” Wagner said.
The rancor has Whitbeck worried that individual Virginia Republicans could decide that if their preferred candidate doesn’t win the nomination, they will sit out the general election or put their weight behind an independent or third-party candidate.
“While we all appreciate people standing” on principle, Whitbeck wrote, “how is it principled to support someone who has no chance of winning and handing elections over to the Democrats?”
It ‘s not a made-up concern. As Paul Goldman and I wrote after the 2014 Senate race between Mark Warner, Ed Gillespie and Libertarian Robert Sarvis, Sarvis’s candidacy gave restive voters who might otherwise have gone for Gillespie another option to vent their frustrations.
Such an option doesn’t exist — yet — in 2017. But Whitbeck acknowledges that if one does — and given the hot rhetoric of the GOP race so far, that’s not out of the question — it could spell disaster in November.
“My fellow Republicans, we don’t have the numbers in this Commonwealth we used to,” Whitbeck wrote. “In order to win statewide elections every single Republican, conservative, Tea Party, liberty-minded and whatever other conservative label you call yourself must support the Republican nominee for every office,” he said.
“If we don’t we will lose,” Whitbeck said, “it is as simple as that.”
Will a “Whitbeck commandment” make things different in 2017? We won’t know until the June primaries are over. But we can take one more lesson from the California GOP to get a sense of what cures the ills of infighting and brings a party together.
In Lou Cannon’s biography “Governor Reagan,” Cannon said Parkinson’s 11th Commandment prevented former San Francisco mayor and presumed front-runner George Christopher from exploiting Reagan’s obvious weakness: inexperience.
When Reagan went on to handily win the Republican nomination, Cannon wrote, “moderate GOP politicians who might have sat on their hands after a close election,” quickly united behind Reagan.
Reagan also made what Cannon called a “gracious overture” to Christopher and offered Christopher’s most prominent supporters slots in the Reagan campaign.
Gov. Pat Brown (D) may have done more than any commandment or overture to heal that breach, having launched what Cannon called a “smear campaign” against Christopher during the primary (no, meddling in the other party’s primary elections is not a new thing).
While Virginia Republicans should not count on Democratic meddling to help them this year, their statewide candidates can do a great deal to salve any wounds.
All it takes is a little grace and a bit of patronage. No commandments necessary.