Virginia is one of the key battleground states the country looks to during off-year elections in an attempt to read the tea leaves and forecast the mid-term congressional elections. Primary elections are next week in critical statewide races for Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General. Key congressional seats hang in the balance next year, and some Republican candidates are making a calculated but risky political decision to distance themselves from President Trump.
On paper it might look like a good idea, given the blueish color the state has taken on. But Virginia is not California; Hillary Clinton may have won the state but her victory was a narrow 5 percent.
These Republicans risk alienating their base by continually distancing themselves from a president who is doing exactly what their base elected him to do or, in some cases, outrightly criticizing him for it. They’re counting on their base showing up and falling in line. It may work in their favor, or, it may be a grave miscalculation that results in political suicide.
The only candidate proudly flashing his Trump credentials is gubernatorial candidate Corey Stewart. The problem with his strategy is that it’s his only strategy.
Unlike Trump, he’s failed to offer a plan as to what he’ll actually do as governor. He also fails to offer the not-so-insignificant fact that as Virginia state co-chairman for the Trump campaign, he was fired by the campaign after participating in an ill-advised protest outside of the RNC last year.
Republican Congresswoman Barbara Comstock, who represents a swing Northern Virginia district, worked for former Attorney General John Ashcroft, and as late as last year said she supported a Jack Kemp Republican party that included people like Marco Rubio and Trey Gowdy. Hardly the mold of a liberal.
Not only did Comstock refuse to endorse Trump after he became the GOP nominee, she called for him to get out of the race. Instead of trying to find common ground with her party’s president, she’s opposed him every chance she gets.
In 2016 she voted for the Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act, which dismantled parts of Obamacare, and said: “Every week I hear from constituents about how Obamacare has increased premiums on families, thrown men, women, and families off existing plans, and hurt many small businesses throughout the 10th Congressional District.”
But when the Affordable Health Care Act came to the House Floor, and Comstock had the opportunity to stand up for her constituents, she did the opposite and voted no. This despite the fact that Virginians can expect a hike of about 10 percent for benchmark plans and 19.5 percent, on average, if they purchase insurance through the exchanges. Meanwhile, Comstock and her staff remain exempt from Obamacare and its premium hikes. What would Jack Kemp say?
Comstock also called for a continued probe into the imaginary ties between Russia and the administration, was quick to join the liberal chorus in criticizing the President for firing FBI Director James Comey, and demanded a briefing on what occurred at a meeting President Trump had with Russia’s foreign minister.
All signs point to her being determined not to do anything that aligns herself with President Trump, even if it would help her constituents. Her statements lately look like they were distributed by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi instead of Speaker Paul Ryan. Ironically, Ryan was mentored by Jack Kemp.
Democrats might praise Comstock for acting like one of them but given the current political climate, there isn’t a liberal in her district who will vote for her as long as she has an “R” after her name, and conservatives are now out of reasons to vote for her because she’s no longer with them or a president who has proven to be very supportive of conservative causes.
The 10th district is a swing district, for sure, and is home to many federal workers. Conservatives who live in the district, few as we may be, are realistic. We know there will be compromises we don’t like, but up until now we always knew what we were getting from our representatives.
Comstock’s predecessor, Frank Wolf, held his seat for three decades. Conservatives knew he could be counted on for certain things, like tax cuts, but he also supported big government initiatives.
He was consistent. He didn’t play ping-pong politics and bounce back and forth to boost his political capital. Thus, he kept his seat until he decided to give it up.
Comstock endorsed State Senator Jill Vogel for Lieutenant Governor. Vogel endorsed Trump in early 2016, but then had trouble admitting she’d vote for him when asked last October.
In a classic two-step, Vogel voted in favor of two bills in 2016 that would give gender identity and sexual orientation protected class status, SB 12, regarding state hiring practices and SB 67 regarding housing laws, even though no evidence of discrimination exists. But after entering the race for lieutenant governor she moved to the right and sent out a mailing asking: “Do you want Barack Obama to set Transgender Bathroom Policies at Your Children’s School?”
Problem: Fairfax County (where Vogel is running ads every day) caused an uproar among parents when it granted transgender teachers and students protected class status. So which side is she on?
For good measure she now claims to be pro-Second Amendment, but in 2012 she supported some gun control measures.
If running from your base was a good strategy for Republicans, Mitt Romney would’ve been elected president. Trump galvanized the GOP base, won many swing states and the White House. Candidates who act as if Virginia is turning into California are about to reach their political expiration date.
The candidates who respect their base know better.
We’ve elected Republicans before and we’ll do it again, but running away from your base and your president won’t get it done.
Lauren DeBellis Appell, a freelance writer in Fairfax, Va., served as former Senator Rick Santorum’s (R-PA) deputy campaign press secretary for his successful re-election campaign, and as assistant communications director for the Senate Republican Policy Committee.