THE MORNING PLUM:
President Trump appeared awfully eager to throw his support to Corey Stewart, the new GOP nominee for Senate in Virginia, despite the fact that he is an apologist for white supremacy who has been condemned by other Republicans. Trump, arriving back from abroad, tweeted his support for Stewart at 5:55 a.m., wishing him “Congratulations” for his “great victory,” and declaring that he has “a major chance of winning” against Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine.
Trump, you may recall, took weeks before finally endorsing Roy Moore’s Senate candidacy in Alabama. Stewart, of course, is not Moore, who was an accused pedophile as well as an open bigot. But Stewart is himself so problematic that it’s not even clear the GOP establishment will back him: Last night, the National Republican Senatorial Committee said nothing. Yet Trump was very eager to declare his endorsement of Stewart. Perhaps this is not despite Stewart’s dalliances with white supremacists, but because of them.
Stewart prevailed last night in the Virginia GOP Senate primary by a slim margin over a former Green Beret who had the backing of the party establishment. Some Republicans immediately expressed dismay. Bill Bolling, the former lieutenant governor of Virginia, tweeted: “This is clearly not the Republican Party I once knew, loved and proudly served. Every time I think things can’t get worse they do, and there is no end in sight.”
Stewart is indeed a very bad actor. In the wake of the white supremacist rallies and the murder of a young woman in Charlottesville, Stewart blamed “half the violence” on the left and condemned fellow Republicans who apologized for the outcome as “weak,” claiming they had helped liberals associate neo-Nazis with the GOP and adding: “There was no reason to apologize.”
Stewart also flatly declared this about the violence: “I don’t believe that this is caused by white supremacy. I believe this is caused by two groups duking it out on the streets.”
Now Democrats are planning to try to tag the Republican Party with Stewart, much as they tried to do with Moore.
“This latest recruitment failure immediately becomes a massive headache for the NRSC and the national Republican Party,” David Bergstein, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, emailed me this morning. “They’ll have to decide the extent to which they will back him, even symbolically, and elevate him even further as a part of the Republican Party brand.”
It’s possible Stewart may become an issue in other Senate races as well, such as in Pennsylvania, a state where Trump narrowly won but the GOP nominee, Rep. Lou Barletta, is a die-hard Trump acolyte. “Every Republican candidate, including in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Missouri, will be asked whether they stand with someone like Corey Stewart and want to serve with him,” a Democratic strategist in Pennsylvania told me. “This will be an example of the Republican Party’s descent into Trumpism in its most vile form.”
Democratic operatives will likely try to force GOP candidates to take a position on Stewart. Of course, Republicans have a way out: They can simply ignore Stewart, as Brian Walsh, a former operative at the NRSC, told me today. “No other Republican candidate outside Virginia should feel any obligation to acknowledge his candidacy,” Walsh said. “He’s not going to be elected to the Senate. He should be a non-issue for them.”
But Republicans probably cannot avoid a renewed national discussion of what it means for their party that an apologist for white supremacy will now be their standard-bearer in a state that is already trending blue faster than it otherwise might because of demographic changes causing it to recoil violently from Trumpism, and what it means that the Republican president so enthusiastically endorsed him.
The GOP is Trump’s party
On this score, it’s worth looking back at an important but overlooked interview that Stephen K. Bannon, the keeper of the flame of Trumpism, gave to The Post. Bannon described Stewart as the “titular head of the Trump movement” in the commonwealth. Stewart lost the Virginia gubernatorial primary to Ed Gillespie, and Gillespie embraced a more careful version of Trumpist race-baiting, one rooted in a defense of Confederate statues and fearmongering about immigrant gang members.
But Bannon was very candid about the actual intention of Gillespie’s messaging. Bannon claimed (wrongly) that Gillespie would win and credited Gillespie’s use of “Trump-Stewart talking points,” in effect admitting that Gillespie was playing a disguised version of the same game Stewart plays, i.e., using racial provocations to stir up the Trumpist base.
In a way, Trump’s enthusiastic endorsement of Stewart is itself a form of deliberate racial provocation. After all, Stewart’s claim that white supremacy didn’t cause the Charlottesville violence, and that “half” of it was caused by the left, shades heavily into Trump’s refusal to unambiguously condemn white supremacy by insisting that Charlottesville showcased hate and bigotry “on many sides.” On this matter, Trump and Stewart basically agree, and Trump is making that clear.
So the fact that GOP voters who overwhelmingly love Trump now picked Stewart is hardly a surprise. As another Republican candidate who won a primary last night by tying herself to Trump put it: “We are the party of President Donald J. Trump.”
* REPUBLICAN PUNISHED FOR CRITICIZING TRUMP: GOP Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina went down to defeat in his primary last night:
Sanford, one of President Trump’s sharpest Republican critics in Congress, was ousted by … state legislator Katie Arrington, who won Trump’s support just hours before the polls closed on Tuesday. Trump lashed out against Sanford, declaring him “nothing but trouble” in a tweet and referencing his 2009 extramarital affair.
Arrington is the one who gratefully proclaimed that her victory shows that the GOP is now the “party of President Donald J. Trump.”
* DEMS FLIP ANOTHER STATE SENATE SEAT: Democrat Caleb Frostman won a state Senate seat in Wisconsin last night, in a district Trump carried by 16 points in 2016:
This is … the third Wisconsin state election this year that has left Republicans sounding alarm bells. In January, Democrats flipped a rural Trump +17 state district with a comfortable 10-point margin of victory — a loss Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker … called “a wake-up call for Republicans in Wisconsin.” Liberals also won a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court by a huge margin in April.
It’s the 43rd state legislative seat Democrats have flipped from red to blue, which continues to bode well for Democratic chances this fall.
* DEM ESTABLISHMENT KEEPS WINNING: The New York Times brings us the result of last night’s Democratic primaries in Virginia and Nevada:
In Northern Virginia, it was Jennifer Wexton, a state senator endorsed by Gov. Ralph Northam, who emerged from a throng of candidates looking to challenge Representative Barbara Comstock … In two Nevada House races, Democrats nominated Steven Horsford, a former member of Congress, and Susie Lee, a wealthy philanthropist and party donor, by resounding margins after Democratic leaders lined up behind them.
No matter how many times pundits try to argue that both parties are equivalently consumed in ideological warfare, it just ain’t so.
* ROSENSTEIN-NUNES WAR HEATS UP: CNN reports that the battle is heating up over Rep. Devin Nunes’s threat to hold Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein in contempt of Congress to force the release documents about the Russia probe.
Rosenstein is warning House GOP staffers to retain all emails and texts relevant to this ongoing fight, in case Rosenstein must defend himself against contempt charges. Which means the bad faith of House Republicans in this whole affair could soon be more publicly exposed.
* GOP SENATOR BLASTS TRUMP: Sen. Susan Collins of Maine last night slammed Trump over his treatment of the other members of the Group of Seven and over the glaring contrast between his flattery of Kim Jong Un and his rage at Justin Trudeau:
“The president and his staff should not be alienating our closest allies, our longtime friends, our reliable allies and our biggest trading partners … there is no comparison between Justin Trudeau and Chairman Kim … There’s just no comparison at all.”
How many other Republicans have dared to take this simple step? Meanwhile, GOP leaders are blocking a vote to reassert congressional control over trade, because it would make Trump angry.
* JUSTICE LAWYER QUITS OVER BOGUS LAWSUIT: In the wake of the Justice Department’s backing of a deeply absurd lawsuit designed to gut Obamacare, a top Justice lawyer who had worked on this issue before the department switched has resigned, The Post reports.
The resignation “highlights internal frustration” over the Justice Department’s position, The Post reports, and one official notes that this means “a lot of institutional knowledge and a great deal of experience walking out the door.” And the bad-faith governing continue to take its toll.
* AND TRUMP DECLARES VICTORY ON NORTH KOREA: Good morning, Mr. President:
The deal was extremely vague, and it still remains to be seen whether Trump will insist on robust verification to actually determine whether the denuclearization process is bearing fruit. These tweets suggest he wants to pocket a victory so badly that he won’t.