Corey Stewart’s Virginia Restoration
Corey Stewart, whom Steve Bannon once called the “titular head of the Trump movement” in Virginia, won the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in the state on Tuesday night, and will challenge Senator Tim Kaine, the Democratic incumbent, in November. The result was a shock. Stewart, the chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, helped turn the campaign to defend Confederate monuments into a national issue, and appeared at a press conference in Charlottesville with Jason Kessler, who would later organize the white-supremacist Unite the Right rally. Stewart has described Paul Nehlen, a white-nationalist candidate for Congress in Wisconsin, as one of his “personal heroes,” and has claimed that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is a forgery. On Tuesday, when Stewart’s victory became clear, Bill Bolling, a former Republican lieutenant governor of the state, wrote on Twitter, “This is clearly not the Republican Party I once knew, loved and proudly served. Every time I think things can’t get worse they do, and there is no end in sight.”
Last August, ten days after the rally in Charlottesville, I visited Stewart at his house, a restored plantation called Bel Air, in Woodbridge, Virginia, outside the suburban belt. Stewart, a forty-nine-year-old lawyer and native of Duluth, Minnesota, showed me around, pointing out a room where George and Martha Washington had once stayed as guests. We settled into chairs on the lawn, looking out at a field that had been worked by slaves. He insisted that black Virginians were against removing statues of Confederate leaders. “If you speak to the average African-American in Virginia, they love Virginia, they love their history, and they don’t want to see it go away,” he said.
When I asked Stewart how he had come to the issue, he explained that it had happened recently, in early 2017, when he was running a long-shot campaign for the Republican nomination for governor. He heard about the gathering controversy about Charlottesville’s Confederate monuments and, that February, held a campaign rally defending them. The event was small, but the few Confederate believers were surrounded by a crowd of counter-protesters, and his eye, in his own recollection, had been drawn not to the true believers on his side but to the liberals arrayed against him, to their excesses and makeup. “They were yelling, ‘Hey hey, ho ho, white supremacy’s got to go,’ ” he said. One of his staffers was streaming the event on Facebook Live. “I knew it was going to go viral and it would become a big issue for my campaign,” he said.
When I have thought of Stewart in recent months, it has been as an opportunist who understood that, in today’s Republican Party, whom you’re with is much less important than whom you’re against. (I also remembered that, when I had asked for water, Stewart had opened a basement refrigerator stocked with cases of La Croix.) In 2017, Stewart nearly won the Republican nomination for governor, coming within about five thousand votes of Ed Gillespie, a onetime aide to President George W. Bush and a former chairman of the Republican National Committee. Gillespie went on to lose badly in the general election, though not before adopting Stewart’s position on Confederate monuments. Last night, the Republican Party was expected to nominate Nick Freitas, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates and a former Special Forces officer, who, in opposition to Stewart, had become the establishment candidate. Instead, Stewart beat him. Again, the margin was about five thousand votes. Stewart won counties in southwestern Virginia, as expected. He also won in the wealthy suburbs of Washington, full of lobbyists and defense contractors. The Republican establishment has not disappeared; it has accommodated itself to the Trump ethos.
As the results came in, I recalled a debate that I had watched, in April, between Stewart, Freitas, and a third candidate, the black conservative pastor E. W. Jackson, and realized that the result should have been obvious all along. Freitas cut a smoother figure than Stewart, who is crude in both his politics and his metaphors. (“To take away history from a Virginian is like taking the beach away from a Floridian,” he told me last summer.) But, if you ignored these surface distinctions, the three men onstage sounded awfully similar—the purportedly establishment candidate, the Christian candidate, and the nationalist candidate did not represent different factions of the Republican coalition so much as different moods. All three insisted that, like the Trump Administration, they disbelieved the Congressional Budget Office’s deficit projections. When pressed about foreign policy, they simply contrasted President Trump’s strength with President Obama’s weakness. When asked about the investigation by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, Stewart claimed that it was a conspiracy to bring down the President, cooked up by Virginia Democrats. “McCabe, McAuliffe, all of them. If you think for one moment that Kaine’s not involved in that, you’re wrong,” he said. “And it’s going to come out before this election.”
That remark would have stood out, had Jackson not said that the investigation was an attempt to “overthrow” Trump, and Freitas not argued that Mueller and the former F.B.I. director James Comey had come perilously close to violating the President’s due-process rights. In 2016 and 2017, the shock was how casually Republican-primary voters rejected familiar candidates for new figures, whose politics, until recently, had been seen as beyond the pale. In 2018, the surprise is subtler: between the extremists and those in the establishment, it is often hard to find any difference at all.
via Everything https://ift.tt/2i2hEWb
June 13, 2018 at 04:35PM