DONALD TRUMP’S 2020 losing margin in Virginia was the biggest for any presidential candidate in that state in 32 years, but the Republicans vying for their party’s gubernatorial nomination in the state’s May 8 convention just can’t quit him.

With the exception of state Sen. Amanda F. Chase (Chesterfield), who channels the former president’s incendiary bombast, the other major contenders pay lip service to a politics of inclusion that would broaden the GOP’s appeal, a sensible strategy for a party that has lost every statewide election in Virginia since 2009. At the same time, they can’t seem to refrain from stances and statements that veer from immigrant-bashing to anti-LGBTQ dog-whistling to election “integrity” programs that would make voting harder, and the electorate smaller. Fine for the Trumpian party base, but not exactly a recipe for a politics of inclusion.

Granted, there are major differences among them. Del. Kirk Cox (Colonial Heights), a retired teacher who was speaker of the House of Delegates before Democrats won control of the chamber in 2019, is a serious legislator and by temperament a traditional Republican — fiscally conservative, antiabortion, pro-gun rights. He says his “whole life has been about trying to attract different folks” to the party fold, and in office he’s had a pragmatic streak, for instance dropping his opposition to expanding Medicaid on the condition that recipients be required to work. So it is jarring to hear Mr. Cox now dismiss anti-racist guidance to state teachers as “nonsense” and pledge to “go further” to restrict voting than Georgia did with its restrictive law in March.

Unlike his main rivals, Mr. Cox does acknowledge that President Biden won the 2020 election fairly. Yet like them, he has issued an election “integrity” plan — a wink to the stop-the-steal fantasists in his party base. True, his vote-limiting blueprint is more modest than those of the two multimillionaires in the contest: social media entrepreneur Pete Snyder, whose 23-point agenda would embroil elections in the state in a tangle of pernicious restrictions; and former private equity executive Glenn Youngkin, whose own five-point plan for an election integrity “task force” is the only detailed policy proposal he has put forward.

Mr. Snyder’s evolution in politics is a study in Trumpian distortion. In his unsuccessful 2013 race for lieutenant governor, he positioned himself as a pragmatic businessman and worried that the GOP had shrunk its aspirations “from Big Tent to pup tent.” Now, he is an enthusiastic downsizer, boasting endorsements from his party’s most incendiary culture warriors and vowing to deport “violent illegal immigrants” once he’s governor.

Mr. Youngkin’s campaign is built on a scaffolding of slogans and dodgy assertions. He says Democrats are defunding the police; there are no examples of that in Virginia and few elsewhere. He insists Republicans can win “through addition and multiplication and not through division and subtraction,” yet signaled his own intolerance by attacking former governor Terry McAuliffe, the front-runner in this year’s Democratic field, for opposing laws that allow religious groups to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

Bigotry, divisiveness and extremist policies have contributed to the GOP’s losing streak in Virginia. As the state grows more diverse, it has shifted to the political center. Yet as this year’s field of gubernatorial candidates demonstrates, many in the party remain entrenched on the fringe.

Read more: