John Whitbeck, the chairman of the Virginia GOP, resigned early Saturday afternoon, presumably because he didn’t want the proverbial shit storm of supporting Republican Senatorial Candidate Corey Stewart on his resume. More so, given the bigotry and charlatanism in the Republican Party has not yet returned to Reagan-era levels.
In a subliminal statement posted to the Republican Party of Virginia’s Facebook page, Whitbeck said, “I started this job with a message of party unity being the key to our success. I will end the job the same way. No matter what happens cycle after cycle, Republicans must stand together.”
Naturally, Republicans are emphatically not standing together on this one.
Bill Bolling, former Virginia lieutenant governor under Governors’ Tim Kaine and Bob McDonnell–and a Republican candidate for governor in 2013 himself–tweeted after Stewart won the primary that he was “extremely disappointed that a candidate like Corey Stewart could win the Republican nomination for US Senate.” He went on to say, “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.”
Stewart will now take on incumbent Senator Tim Kaine in the November midterm elections. His refusal to renounce ties with the white supremacist organizer of Unite the Right, Jason Kessler, along with his “I was Trump before Trump was Trump” comments have earned him derision from both parties. This has led many long-time conservatives, and many other Republicans on the ticket this fall, to not touch Stewart with a ten-foot pole. He has even been eschewed by the ultra-conservative Koch Brothers and their political funding.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee, for one, chose not to endorse Stewart after his primary win. Their chairman, Cory Gardner, said they have “no plans” to spend any money on Stewart’s campaign. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) were both eager to distance themselves from Stewart; Sen. Cornyn effectively gave the “Who’s that?” response when asked about Stewart, and Sen. Paul said he was “disappointed” in the result of the primary.
And then there are the incumbent representatives on the Republican ticket in Virginia this fall, all of whom will assuredly stay silent on Stewart until they are forced to make a public comment. Susan Swecker, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, said that Stewart will bring out the true colors of his fellow Virginia Republicans. “There is no place to hide — you are either running with Corey Stewart and you condone his vile politics, or you don’t,” she said in a statement.
While party divide is the most likely reason for Whitbeck’s resignation, a dismal track record in elections since taking over as chairman in 2015 could also be a factor. Ralph Northam won the gubernatorial election last year by nine points, which was the largest winning margin by a Virginia Democrat since 1985. Democrats also flipped 15 seats in the House of Delegates, which was the biggest electoral shift towards the Democrats since 1899.
The midterm elections this fall will be in many ways a litmus test for the Republican Party in the age of Trump. Virginians will get an opportunity to show the rest of the country just how much they approve of their president with the Kool-Aid drinking Trump acolyte on the ballot this fall.