Ed Gillespie’s Tuesday win in Virginia’s extraordinarily tense and theatric gubernational primary election was an incredible victory for conservatives in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Beyond just Virginia however, Gillespie’s win ought to be a model for conservatives who are wondering how to keep the Reagan coalition together and conservative message vibrant in our modern political landscape.
Virginia is one of two states this year that has non-special statewide elections and has consequently caught an unusual amount of national attention for what otherwise might be an ordinary gubernatorial election.
This national focus has increased dramatically thanks to these elections being barometers for how elections will morph in the Trump-era and furthermore because of the unique microcosm dynamics of Ed Gillespie’s race against his Republican opponents.
Ed Gillespie, former RNC Chair and the Virginia GOP’s nominee for Senate in 2014, prevailed with a hair-thin margin of barely over 1% in a relatively low turnout election. While in the 2016 Presidential primary over one million voters voted in the Republican primary, on Tuesday the turnout was barely over 350,000.
Over the past few months it had seemed like the election was relatively settled, as polling consistently showed Gillespie with a solid lead over his two competitors, Trump-copycat firebrand Corey Stewart and middle-of-the-road moderate Republican Frank Wagner.
The polling up until the election seemed to show that the Trump-like platform and style that Stewart was attempting was one that did not necessarily work on the state and local levels, but rather was a phenomenon tied to the unique dynamics of the 2016 election or at most perhaps federal-level governance in the Republican Party.
This sentiment was further reinforced by how many of the federal-level issues that now-President Trump ran on were difficult to translate to state and local issues, for which public officials have vastly different powers and duties.
However Tuesday ended up being a nail-biter as a last-minute surge for Corey Stewart once again questioned traditional political wisdom as many political events over the past two-years have.
Corey swept Republican “Silent Majority” voters in the areas of Virginia that supported Trump in both the primary and general election, demonstrating that somehow voters that had a disposition towards Trump might seem inclined to support a similar message to his on the down-ballot races as well.
In contrast, Ed Gillespie ran a coalition-based campaign presenting an optimistic and innovative conservative vision rooted on individual liberty, economic prosperity, and limited government. Rather than running on a Bush-era aloof-style that has found itself increasingly difficult to gain traction with in the Trump-era, Gillespie instead ran on a message that addressed the dissatisfaction of many Trump-voters without stepping over the line.
The results were that instead of many voters wanting to turn the boat, they were soothed, rather than brow-beaten as was often the style of certain candidates the past few years, into supporting Gillespie’s message. That is how Gillespie prevailed in a state where Trump won the primary.
Gillespie’s style should offer hope to conservatives who find disdain for an overtly nationalist-populist message and want to find ways for conservatism to remain vibrant and effective in our current political climate.
One of the main reasons that now-President Trump was able to gain, and keep throughout numerous gaffes that would have sunk other candidates easily, such strong support during the Presidential primary was because he addressed the increasing disconnect between conservative voters and those in the policy and governance world.
After years of increasing neglect from some elected leaders and representatives, whether in policy results, communication, or even just basic respect, Republican voters simply had enough and wanted to send a message.
The Republican Party has undoubtedly learned from now-President Trump’s rise and already has been trying to better reform the party to be more open and able to keep the conservative coalition together. The old ham-handed ways of leading and governing the party are long-gone, as they were doomed to eventual failure due to the increasingly deep cracks such a leadership style was producing in the conservative coalition.
Conservative leaders from across the country ought to look at how Gillespie prevailed and follow a similar message and style to keep the message of God-given liberty, capitalism, and constitutional limited government alive and as strong as ever. Many of the conservative movement’s cracks are unnecessary and can be resolved. Gillespie’s win demonstrates that it is both possible and effective.