Long before anyone imagined Donald Trump in the White House, Republicans such as Corey A. Stewart, last year’s failed GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate and the soon-to-be-former top official in Prince William County, rose to prominence as right-wing culture warriors. Mr. Stewart, assessing this week’s Democratic gains, said Republicans would be “toast” in Virginia for 10 years. That may be right; if it is, Mr. Stewart himself was a prominent toaster.
Mr. Stewart’s brand of Republicanism — immigrant-bashing, Confederate-monument-revering, gun-loving, abortion-blocking, trash-talking and, lately, Trump-lionizing — has been ascendant in Richmond and elsewhere. It has methodically alienated moderate and swing voters, especially in the vote-rich suburbs of Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads. In a state that won the competition for Amazon’s second corporate headquarters partly on the strength of a well-educated, multicultural workforce, Republicans who threw red meat to their base by attacking undocumented immigrants found their appeal waning.
Granted, federal judges gave Democrats a leg up in this year’s races by ordering House of Delegates districts redrawn owing to the dilution of the political clout of black voters, who had been jammed into relatively few House districts.
Yet the GOP’s problems have deep roots. No Virginia Republican has won a statewide election in a decade. And in Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun counties — Washington suburban localities that together comprise nearly a quarter of Virginia’s population of 8.5 million — elected Republicans at any level are now an all-but-vanished breed.
The party’s enfeeblement was accelerated by its rejection of moderate, substantive GOP officeholders such as former lieutenant governor Bill Bolling and former congressman Thomas M. Davis III. And it signed its political death warrant by blowing up the summer’s special legislative session on gun safety after just 90 minutes, without considering a single bill. That act of cluelessness and arrogance came weeks after a mass shooting in Virginia Beach left 12 people dead.
Virginia Republicans are at a defining moment. If they reverse course and tack to the center, they may again become a force in a state that would benefit from a vibrant two-party competition. If not — if they double down by continuing down the Trumpian path blazed by Mr. Stewart and his like — they might become “toast” not for a decade but for a generation.