Republican Party of Virginia chairman John Whitbeck is proud of the progress the party has made under his leadership.
In an interview with long-time political observer Jim Hoeft, Whitbeck said the party had cleaned up its balance sheet, rebuilt its fundraising base, brought full time staff on board and developed what he called an “exceptional relationship” with the Republican National Committee.
There is one problem: None of it has “translated into winning elections.”
That’s an understatement. After the GOP’s thumping in the November elections, Republicans remain shut out of statewide offices and, pending the outcome of recounts in four races, they may lose control of the House of Delegates as well.
There is no indication that the statewide losing streak will end in 2018.
The only declared candidate for the party’s Senate nomination is Corey A. Stewart. He is 0-2 is such races (so far). There may be other challengers on the horizon. Republicans should hope so. Otherwise, their statewide travails will extend far down the ballot.
They may have already begun.
Two Republican House incumbents – Reps. Barbara Comstock and Scott Taylor – face primary challenges from the right. The GOP also must defend an open seat in the 6th District, where long-time incumbent Bob Goodlatte is retiring. There are even muted rumblings from Democrats that they might be able to take out 7th District incumbent Dave Brat next year.
History says Republicans should have little problem winning the 6th. But their incumbents will have to spend precious time and resources fending off challenges in Comstock’s 10th and Taylor’s 2nd District seats.
In an election year that looks to be terrible for GOP incumbents, primary challenges only make matters worse.
Whitbeck says Virginia Republicans had best get used to the lean times.
“Virginia has changed,” Whitbeck said, and the way Republicans are running statewide races is “turning voters off.”
He conceded to Hoeft that it might be some time before the GOP wins statewide office again.
So how does the party change its fortunes?
Whitbeck said it needs to be a bottom-up, grass-roots effort, with Republicans running their races the “Virginia way, not the Washington, D.C., way.”
Those may have been very distinct approaches at one time – say during the heyday of the Bryd Machine. But no more, and certainly not while Donald Trump is in the White House.
What to do in the meantime?
Republican Stacie Gordon urges Republicans to shake off their funk and put up their dukes.
“We will never turn Virginia red again if we stand down and refuse to fight,” Gordon writes at the Republican Standard website.
She wants the GOP to take its fight to every corner of the commonwealth, contesting districts even if it means losing.
If it sounds a lot like Tom Perriello’s call earlier this year for Democrats to run in as many districts as possible and take their message even into the Trumpiest parts of Virginia, you’re right.
And given a big enough electoral wave, it can show results. Republicans won’t have that wave anytime soon.
Roff’s spin on the 2017 debacle (aside from his bashing of this newspaper):
By the vote totals Gillespie was the most successful GOP candidate in the history of the commonwealth, having garnered more votes for the state’s top office than anyone else save the man who defeated him, Gov.-elect Ralph Northam.
So Gillespie is the greatest runner-up Virginia has ever had. How does this help them win in 2018, 2019 or 2020?
What they need is the kind of admission Whitbeck is talking about. Virginia has changed. Republicans need to change with it. That doesn’t mean the party faithful need to slap “coexist” bumper stickers on the family cars and start composting the kitchen waste.
What it does take is critical self-assessment and a willingness to admit they have a problem.
We’ll know after this weekend’s RPV Advance, a multi-day gathering in Hot Springs, Va., expected to draw 600 Republican leaders and activists, whether they have the guts to do so.