There has been some commentary on these pages here and here regarding the primary election victory of Corey Stewart in Virginia for the GOP nomination to take on Tim Kaine. The first headline declared that because of Stewart, the GOP had lost the election in November. In fact, whether Nick Freitas, Corey Stewart or E.W. Jackson won the primary the chances of a Republican victory here were very slim to none. People are acting and writing as if the GOP electorate in Virginia threw away a golden opportunity to pick up a seat in the Senate when that was never the case.
So, what has people riled up, and it is not just writers and comments here at Redstate? In fact, some comments here and elsewhere echo the sentiments of Tim Kaine himself who said: “A cruder imitation of Donald Trump who stokes white supremacy and brags about being ‘ruthless and vicious,’ Corey Stewart would be an embarrassment for Virginia in the U.S. Senate.” Said Akash Chougule, policy director at the conservative Americans for Prosperity: “there is only one reason anyone would vote for him, and it isn’t a good one.”
Let us put this all in perspective. First, Stewart does not necessarily “represent” the GOP. He won with less than 50% of the vote- far from a consensus candidate- and by about 5,400 votes overall. Second, leaving aside the alleged baggage, Stewart has been fairly consistent in his views being pro-gun, pro-life and anti-illegal immigrant. In many ways, he does not stray too radically beyond the Republican agenda. The problem is that he may not necessarily be the best spokesman for that agenda.
That being said, the three knocks on Stewart are what has everyone’s knickers all twisted. The first is his defense of Confederate symbols. When running for Governor in 2017- a primary race he lost- he unfurled a Virginia battle flag and said: “Folks, this is a symbol of heritage. It is not a symbol of racism, it is not a symbol of slavery. I’m proud to be here with this flag.” Personally, this writer finds nothing offensive with this statement or this sentiment.
What I do find offensive is his follow up statement on Twitter: “Nothing is worse than a Yankee telling a Southerner that his monuments don’t matter.” Its offensive because Stewart was born and raised in Minnesota and is a transplant to Virginia who knows little about Southern pride or heritage. Opportunistic? Absolutely, but certainly not racist. He later compared the leadership of New Orleans which were dismantling Confederate statues at the time with ISIS. Lost in translation: ISIS was dismantling non-Muslim statues, shrines, and historic sites also.
The second knock on Stewart is his association with Jason Kessler, the organizer of the Unite the Right debacle of a rally in Charlottesville that resulted in a death. During his run for Governor in 2017, Stewart appeared at many rallies with the Confederate flag behind him. Kessler was present at at least two of these rallies. Kessler is, arguably, an avowed racist and Stewart has disavowed him telling The Weekly Standard:
I didn’t know who he was when I met with him. And I only met with him twice. At that point I realized, this guy is bad news.
Taking Stewart at his word, he can be accused of failing to do his homework. Kessler was certainly known in Virginia circles for his views. In November 2016, he suggested white people adopt the Nazi label as “a term of endearment.” And Kessler was making noises bathed in racist rhetoric about Confederate statues well before Charlottesville.
Finally, is his association with Paul Nehlen. In fact, Stewart had paid Nehlen to rent his email list for fundraising purposes. He also counted Nehlen as one of his “personal heroes” for taking on (and losing miserably) to Paul Ryan in 2016. Nehlen has associated himself with such racists as David Duke, Andrew Anglin (of the Daily Stormer) and neo-Nazi Christopher Cantwell. Nehlen was banned from Twitter for posting racist pictures (they admittedly were) and making anti-Semitic comments (they admittedly were). As with Kessler, Stewart has disavowed Nehlen after-the-fact telling the Washington Post, “That was before he went nuts and started spewing a bunch of stupid stuff. When he started saying all that crazy stuff, I wanted nothing to do with him after that.”
In the end, is Stewart a racist, white supremacist? Henry Wiggins, head of the Democratic Party in Prince William county said it best: “I don’t believe Corey is a racist. But he’ll do anything to get a vote.” And Stewart himself seems to give himself away as he has stated he :
…was similar to Trump well before I joined his campaign. I’ve always been very bold, some would say brash. I’ve always said very edgy, controversial statements. And it’s part of the campaign strategy to attract media attention. I’ve done that forever.
Stewart, in fact, headed Trump’s campaign efforts in Virginia and was eventually let go when he had a falling out over a protest he led outside the RNC offices. The firing was allegedly to placate Reince Priebus.
As for his victory, this writer can smell a Democratic rat. Virginia holds an open primary and considering that Tim Kaine ran unopposed, many Democrats had a large incentive to cross party lines in an effort to influence November’s outcome by choosing the least palatable opponent. It is a strategy that has worked before.
Surprisingly (or maybe not), Stewart got a huge boost from three northern Virginia counties that are heavily Democratic. In Fairfax county, Clinton won with 64% of the vote and Gillespie defeated Stewart in the 2017 gubernatorial primary, but Stewart prevailed this year over the more mainstream Freitas. In Loudon county, Clinton prevailed with 55% of the vote in 2016. Northam won this county over Gillespie by 20 points. In the 2017 gubernatorial primary, Gillespie prevailed as there were only 12,393 votes cast. This year, Stewart won Loudon county, but 3,700 more Republicans showed up to vote. One can understand Stewart carrying Prince William county (its his home base), but this is another county that went for Clinton in 2016 and Northam in 2017, although it was barely carried by Stewart over Gillespie in the 2017 GOP primary.
Last year, the Democrats attacked the Gillespie campaign as the most racist in Virginia history. If they are going to label an establishment stalwart and milquetoast candidate like Gillespie as racist, what will they label Stewart? In fact, what are some Republicans currently labeling Stewart? Stewart may be an opportunistic Northern transplant carpetbagger, but the jury is out on his white supremacy credentials.