The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The Virginia GOP is blowing it

Amanda F. Chase, a Virginia state senator and candidate for the Republican nomination for governor, in 2019 in Richmond. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

This year was supposed to be different for Virginia’s long-suffering Republicans. This year, they were going to pull themselves together and make the November election a referendum on the Democratic majorities controlling state government.

They had ample material to work with. In wo years of trifecta control of state government, Democrats had succeeded in rolling back important parts of the Republican legislative legacy. From gun control to abolishing the death penalty, Democrats had transformed Virginia into the most progressive state in the South.

And to top that off, recent days have delivered what could be a genuine scandal involving the state parole board, the state inspector general’s office, Attorney General Mark Herring’s office and possibly the Northam administration.

Rarely have the stars aligned so perfectly and with such great political timing for the Virginia GOP.

And Republicans are doing their level best to blow it.

The party has wasted weeks trying to decide the precise method it will use to pick its statewide nominees. The most recent wrinkle: The decision to hold the party’s nominating convention at Liberty University parking lots May 8 — which was news to the University — has been ruled out as “not feasible.”

Like Wile E. Coyote, the Republican Party of Virginia is heading back to the virtual drawing board on Friday to come up with an entirely new scheme for picking its nominees.

From the outside looking in, the party’s bickering and blundering looks pointless and destructive. It signals that Republicans are neither ready nor capable of running state government.

But the bungling has done one important thing: It has vaporized a Republican talking point about how Democrats undermined the public’s faith in the electoral system. Plenty of folks inside the party think the process is being rigged to stop Sen. Amanda F. Chase (Chesterfield) from winning the gubernatorial nomination and to boost an establishment candidate like Del. Kirk Cox (Colonial Heights) or a Trump-wanna be such as Pete Snyder.

Meanwhile, party chairman Rich Anderson’s letter calling for yet another meeting of party leaders makes a most unusual, if entirely understandable, admission: He’s tired of this nonsense, too.

“To be frank,” Anderson wrote, “I and most Republicans are fatigued by this process.” True. But to read the comments on Anderson’s Facebook post, the party faithful are more than fatigued. They are fed up.

Some of them are Chase supporters who, like her, want a state-run primary rather than a convention. The reason: In a multicandidate field, the winner needs only a plurality of the vote. Chase and her backers think she could win such a contest. They may not be wrong.

Party grandees decided a primary was far too great a risk for exactly that reason and backed the convention as a way to block Chase. That highhanded move still rankles, with one Chase backer saying the party and Anderson are “too scared of Amanda Chase becoming governor.”

Putting aside the idea that Chase could win in November, others commenting on Anderson’s letter are still holding out hope for a primary, even though the deadline for the party to choose that option passed on Feb. 23.

Other commentators believe the whole exercise is futile and that the fractured party may as well get used to the idea of losing in November. Such grousing is not unusual on the GOP side.

In the last days of the 2005 gubernatorial race between Republican Jerry Kilgore and Democrat Tim Kaine, then-state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II was dragooned to write an op-ed for the Washington Times making the conservative case for Kilgore.

Maybe the former attorney general and Trump administration staffer (who now backs Snyder) will be forced to do something similar in November, this time urging the Trump populists to back whomever Republicans eventually nominate.

Until then, the clock ticks on the GOP, which seems more intent on designing the perfect circular firing squad than building a credible opposition.

Read more:

Norman Leahy: It’s Opening Day for Virginia’s political season

Norman Leahy: Virginia Republicans prep a law-and-order campaign

Norman Leahy: The Virginia GOP gubernatorial convention just got more interesting

Norman Leahy: Virginia’s Republican gothic