Corey A. Stewart has been running for one statewide office or another for five years. After coming within a whisker of snatching the GOP gubernatorial nomination from Ed Gillespie a year ago, Stewart finally found a way into the winner’s circle.
He will win nothing more. And the Republican Party? Its remaining adherents seem intent on never winning again.
The only real questions remaining for November are whether Sen. Tim Kaine (D) exceeds the 31-percentage point victory margin Sen. Mark Warner (D) secured in his 2008 Senate race against former governor Jim Gilmore (R). And whether Stewart takes one, two or three GOP House incumbents down with him.
There’s anecdotal evidence Stewart’s win has already begun hollowing out the GOP. UVA’s Larry Sabato tweeted:
Longtime major GOP donors and campaign workers in VA have told me last night and today that with Corey Stewart’s nomination, they are “done” with the party. Last straw, they say. Hard to know how widespread this is, but it’s not good news for Republicans.
Not good news, particularly if donors abandon the party. They’ve done so here and there in the past, including a group who left 2001 GOP gubernatorial nominee Mark Earley in the lurch to form “Virginians for Warner.”
This time, though, the operatives and moneymen are serious. Stewart is a rebel flag-draped bridge too far. Better to walk away and not look back.
One is forced to wonder what took them so long.
It’s not just that Stewart was once too unsavory even for President Trump, who fired Stewart as his Virginia campaign co-chairman in 2016 (though the two seem to have patched things up, with Trump tweeting his congratulations to Stewart Wednesday morning).
Did they vent the same disgust when Trump won the GOP nomination in 2016? Some did — including fighting a state law binding delegates to vote for Trump at the GOP convention or fighting his nomination from the floor.
But others didn’t. They fell in line, perhaps with regret, even disgust. But stay they did.
They had a brief glimmer of hope in 2017 with Gillespie. He was one of them: a known, comfortable quantity who nearly knocked off Warner in 2014. Gillespie might not be able to keep Trumpism completely at bay, but he could at least give the local Republican faithful some breathing space.
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) swamped those hopes in November, with the additional dig of nearly capturing the House of Delegates.
That left the GOP with a thin statewide bench, spooked House leadership — and Corey Stewart.
Did any of the folks leaving the state party pack it in then?
Maybe some did. Maybe others packed up when a member of the state party’s central committee, Fredy Burgos, was forced to apologize (and eventually was removed from the committee) for his online bashing of Muslims, immigrants and Jews.
Others hung tough, putting their faith in the little-known but charismatic Del. Nick Freitas to keep Stewart and the equally questionable E.W. Jackson from winning the Senate nomination.
A series of events, over a number of years, left the Virginia GOP in genuine crisis. Can it be saved? Some will argue it must be, and that all the incidents, only a few of which are noted above, are aberrations.
Good luck to them. They must not only excise the twin cankers of Trump and Stewart but also heal the festering wounds that led to the near-fatal nomination contests in the 5th and 6th Congressional Districts.
For those who say there’s absolutely nothing left to save and no hope of building on whatever might remain, more will follow them.
Those who remain — those who voted for Stewart, schemed to nominate Cynthia Dunbar in successive congressional districts and pushed Shak Hill’s bizarre challenge to Rep. Barbara Comstock — will pick the desiccated carcass of the once-formidable Virginia GOP.