Republican voters showed again on Tuesday that they are willing to put forward candidates who have taken positions on racial issues that will make it hard to win general elections.
Corey Stewart won the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in Virginia. Among Stewart's most controversial positions:
- He called Paul Nehlen, a self-professed “pro-white” candidate for Congress in Wisconsin, his “personal hero.”
- He championed Confederate symbols and even had Confederate flags hanging at political rallies.
- He's tied to the organizers of the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.
Despite squeaking out a narrow win over establishment GOP candidate Nick Freitas in the primary and facing a steep uphill challenge against incumbent Democrat Tim Kaine, Stewart has already garnered support from one key Republican: President Trump.
This might be viewed as reciprocation on the president’s part for Stewart’s work on Trump’s 2016 campaign. But Stewart’s victory speech was a reminder that the playbook that worked for Trump is still popular with many Republicans. The crowd chanted "Build a wall!" and "Lock her up!" at the mention of Kaine's 2016 presidential running mate, Hillary Clinton.
And though primaries tend to bring out a small and fervent slice of their parties, the Republican Party of Virginia isn’t treating Stewart as an outlier.
Stewart is far from an unknown to Virginia Republicans: Serving as chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors since 2006, he had previously run for the party’s nomination for lieutenant governor, and last year he ran for the GOP nomination for governor, winning more than 40 percent of the primary votes. His political rhetoric, if anything, is becoming more inciting with each election.
Some Republican establishment members were vocally disappointed in Tuesday’s result.
But Stewart’s win is further evidence that a reliable block of GOP voters are willing to embrace candidates who do and say things that are racially insensitive at best.
Perhaps the most extreme example of this is Arthur Jones, the Republican candidate for Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District race, who describes the Confederate flag as “a symbol of White pride and White resistance” and “the flag of a White counter revolution” on his website. Jones ran unopposed in his primary in a heavily Democratic district. He’s been disowned by both the national and Illinois GOP. Still, he received 20,000 votes in his March primary.
In the weeks before he won his 2017 Senate primary in Alabama, Roy Moore reportedly said: “I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another. Our families were strong, our country had a direction.” (Moore lost his general election to Democrat Doug Jones, though only narrowly despite the specter of allegations of sexual misconduct with minors looming over him. )
As Tuesday’s results suggested, most Republicans are in line with Trump and Stewart on issues related to race. More than 8 in 10 Republicans (84 percent) believe Confederate monuments are symbols of Southern pride rather than racism, according to a December Public Religion Research Institute report. (Most black voters — 63 percent — disagreed, calling monuments symbols of racism. And nearly 1 in 5 Virginians are black.)
According to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, only 37 percent of Republicans view racism as a big problem.
Despite winning GOP nominations, Jones in Illinois has almost no chance of winning, and Stewart will face steep odds in Virginia. The next big test for the Republican Party will be in August, as Nehlen tries to win the GOP primary to replace retiring House Speaker Paul D. Ryan in Wisconsin.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Tuesday’s primary is that to be victorious with GOP voters, one must go where Trump goes.