RICHMOND — Ed Gillespie hired a blunt-spoken veteran of Donald Trump’s campaign and sharpened his rhetoric on Confederate monuments in recent days, as the establishment Republican running for Virginia governor seeks to win over Trump voters.
Gillespie (R) has hired Jack Morgan, Trump’s Southwest Virginia field director, to play a similar role for his campaign.
An evangelical preacher, motivational speaker and self-defense entrepreneur in Southwest Virginia, Morgan worked for Gillespie’s opponent, Corey A. Stewart, in the GOP gubernatorial primary. He has warned that the country is on the brink of civil war and that communists are behind the effort to take down Confederate statues.
And when he was stumping for Stewart during the primary, Morgan blasted Gillespie as a Washington lobbyist in speeches.
“I’m telling you folks, it would be a shame — that I put [in] all the time I did, and all of you folks put in all the time you did, and we all across America worked as hard as we could to send Donald Trump to Washington, D.C., to drain the swamp, and send a lobbyist to Richmond,” Morgan told the Southwest Virginia Republican Women’s Club in April. “That would be a disaster.”
Morgan, an associate pastor at Real Life Ministries in Wytheville, Va., did not respond to messages seeking comment. The Gillespie campaign declined to make him available for an interview.
Conservative radio host John Fredericks, who helped lead Trump’s Virginia campaign, touted the hire as a win for the party’s Trump faction.
Fredericks was one of several prominent Republicans, from the White House on down, who urged Gillespie to hire Trump campaign veterans after he nearly lost the primary to Stewart.
“Our hope is that some of the Jack Morgan style rubs off on Ed,” Fredericks said Tuesday. “Ed needs to surround himself with Jack Morgans. ”
Fredericks did not think Morgan’s past criticism of Gillespie will hamper his ability to sell him now. “I think Jack, in looking at this race, has come to the sober conclusion that Ed Gillespie’s positions and polices are much closer to President Trump’s . . . than Ralph Northam’s are,” Fredericks said, referring to the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, the state’s lieutenant governor. “There’s now a binary decision that has to be made.”
David Abrams, a campaign spokesman, said Morgan is working on “grassroots outreach and coalition coordination, and we are thrilled to have him on the team.”
The move delighted Republicans who think Gillespie, a former lobbyist and aide to President George W. Bush as well as chairman of the Republican National Committee, needs to make a stronger pitch to rural voters to beat Northam (D) in November.
Morgan has a swaggering style that could not be more at odds with Gillespie’s reflexive caution. He calls the push to remove Confederate monuments a communist plot to undermine America.
“This is nothing but pure communists trying to come after America again,” he said in a video he shot this week at a monument in Mount Jackson, where he was campaigning for Gillespie and state Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Fauquier), who is running for lieutenant governor. “We have to stand up and we have to combat these crazy leftists, some socialists, but a whole lot of communists, too – nobody wants to use that [word] — who are coming after our country and after our foundation.”
Gillespie’s decision to hire Morgan drew praise from Mark Lloyd, director of Trump’s Virginia campaign, who in the past has criticized Gillespie as an unexciting candidate.
“Jack Morgan is a great guy,” Lloyd said. “He is a hard worker and he knows Southwest Virginia better than anybody else in conservative politics.”
The Democratic Party of Virginia used the hiring to link Gillespie to the president, calling it a sign that he has “decided to further embrace Trump’s toxic presidency.”
Morgan was working on Stewart’s campaign when Confederate monuments became its marquee issue. In February, Stewart traveled to Charlottesville to protest the city’s decision to remove a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee from a downtown park. Counterprotesters mobbed him, video of that went viral, and a campaign theme was born. The attention drew white nationalists to the statue for two protests, one in July and the other Aug. 12, with the latter resulting in three deaths.
On the stump for Stewart in April, Morgan recalled the February counterprotesters as “a bunch of crazy, left-wing liberal nut jobs, absolutely crazy people.” He used similarly strong language on Facebook this week, when he posted video of black-clad anti-fascist “antifa” protesters attacking right-wing protesters in Berkeley, Calif.
“It is now clear that Law Enforcement is either incapable or unwilling to stop the communists that are attempting to destroy our nation,” Morgan wrote. “It is time for President Trump to take control of this insurgency in America and for every law abiding citizen to train and be prepared to defend your life. We are already in a civil war it just hasn’t been called that yet.”
Gillespie uses far milder language, although his position on monuments has grown sharper in recent days.
Four days after the deadly Aug. 12 melee, Gillespie issued a long, nuanced statement that noted that while Northam believes the statues should be removed, and Gillespie thinks they should remain in place with added context, they both agreed the decision should be left to local communities.
“These are legitimate differences, and I know Virginians are engaging in an ongoing, thoughtful conversation about these sensitive issues, one marked by respect and understanding,” he wrote.
But in an email to supporters this week, he was no longer calling for conversation.
“Spending scarce tax dollars on very costly stature removals instead of improving schools and roads or increasing pay for teachers and police is not the right priority for Virginians,” it said. “Democrat Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam has promised to do everything he can if he is elected governor to remove Virginia’s Confederate monuments and statues. Add your name if you agree with Ed Gillespie that these statues should stay right where they are and we should teach history — NOT erase it.”
Some anti-Trump Republicans recoiled at the change in Gillespie’s message.
“Special election for Fairfax County school board today. Voted for the Republican. Thought to myself, can still be Republican despite Trump,” Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol tweeted Tuesday. “Then got mass email from Gillespie vowing to keep all Confederate monuments. Really? Not the sensible ‘localities should decide’ position?’ ”