The Republican Party of Virginia is echoing Trump’s call to “liberate” the state as critics of Gov. Ralph Northam (D) plan a second protest this week.
In an email to reporters Monday, the state GOP reiterated Trump’s Friday tweet: “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”
Trump’s tweet was sent the day after about 50 people came to Richmond’s Capitol Square with picnic baskets and plans to defy orders the governor has imposed. It was a much smaller — and more sedate — version of demonstrations staged in other states to protest restrictions that have brought much economic activity to a painful halt.
Organizers plan another protest in Richmond on Wednesday, when the General Assembly is scheduled to reconvene to consider amendments Northam has made to legislation passed earlier this year. The House will meet outdoors, on the lawn of the Capitol, while the Senate will convene a few miles away inside the Science Museum of Virginia.
In its email, the state GOP urged reporters participating in Northam’s Monday news briefing to “consider asking him if shutting down Virginia is actually for our health.” It also warned reporters against Northam’s “attempts to enchant you with a canned ‘now is not the time for partisanship’ answer in his Eastern Shore drawl.”
Republican legislative leaders have urged Northam to start laying the groundwork for reopening the state’s economy, noting skyrocketing unemployment claims. Most of the state’s elected officials have not encouraged Virginians to defy Northam’s orders to stay home when possible and avoid gatherings of more than 10 people. One notable exception is state Sen. Amanda F. Chase (R-Chesterfield), a Trump-style provocateur who is running for governor in 2021 and is encouraging more protest.
The GOP could risk alienating moderate Republicans by echoing Trump’s calls for defiance.
Jay Timmons, president and chief executive of the National Association of Manufacturers and former chief of staff to George Allen (R) when he was governor, reacted angrily on Facebook over the weekend when a longtime associate invited him to Wednesday’s “Reopen Virginia Rally.”
“IDIOTS,” Timmons wrote. “I’ve spent my entire life trying to be diplomatic while fighting for public policy that I believe is right for America. And I have always respected others when we disagree, unless their opinions and positions were harmful to my family. … But I’m done with diplomacy when it comes to this pandemic. And I’m now embracing something I once looked at with disdain: public naming and shaming.”
Northam Chief of Staff Clark Mercer was also critical of the GOP’s stance.
“It’s disappointing that people would play politics with such a devastating public health and economic crisis,” Mercer said. “This is a time to come together as a commonwealth and the governor is so grateful to the millions of Virginians who are doing just that.”
The state GOP also urged reporters to challenge Northam over why certain businesses and services remain open and others not – in many cases erroneously characterizing what Northam has ordered. The governor has allowed many non-essential businesses and activities to continue as long as social distancing can be observed.
“When the State tells you it’s dangerous to go golf alone, fish alone, or be in a motor boat alone, but the Governor can get his stage make up and hair done for multiple TV appearances a week, it’s not about your health,” the GOP’s email said.
Golfing, fishing and boating are allowed under Northam’s orders. His wife cuts his hair – a practice that predates the coronavirus. The governor has not worn make-up for his thrice-weekly news briefings, his office said, nor for the lone national TV interview that he did on the crisis, filmed last weekend in the TV studio on Capitol Square.
John Marsh, spokesman for the state GOP, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.