ICYMI: Republican Luminaries Call Virginia GOP’s Chaotic Nomination Fight “Terribly Embarrassing”
The Virginia GOP’s chaotic, train wreck of a primary is getting national attention. Today, the New York Times reported on the fractures within the Virginia Republican Party, centered around the party’s brutal fight over how to select a gubernatorial nominee.
While VA Republicans initially voted to hold a convention, the far-right wing of the party is taking a page out of Donald Trump’s playbook and refusing to admit defeat. Frontrunner Amanda Chase attempted to sue the VA Republican Party over the decision to hold a convention. Chase, “a Donald Trump acolyte who has been the bane of the state’s GOP establishment,” has long opposed a convention because she sees a primary as her best path to victory and fears that the members of the state central committee might rig a convention against her. Adding to the VA GOP’s trouble – another GOP candidate, Glenn Youngkin, is siding with Chase.
Party leaders only have until Tuesday to make a decision – and if they choose to let the state’s 72 committee members decide, they could face an uproar from Chase and her loyal Trumpian supporters.
Several Republican leaders spoke out about their disappointment:
- Former Rep. Tom Davis: “It’s very much about not accepting the results and trying to change the rules and game the election. The reality now is even when Republicans pull together, they have a hard time winning, and when they’re divided, they have no shot of winning.”
- Former Gov. Bob McDonnell: “To be four months away from the nomination and not have a process is terribly embarrassing and shows an unwillingness to compromise for the good of the party. Every passing day hurts whoever our eventual nominee is for myriad reasons.”
- Republican national committeewoman for Virginia Patti Lyman: “The fact that there’s a minority faction who lost that are standing in the way of a safe convention to try to get the primary that they couldn’t win fairly — that says a lot about them. All their arguments can be boiled down to: We lost, and we don’t like it.”
The VA GOP nomination fight is getting uglier by the day, and whoever the nominee is won’t come out unscathed. Republicans are already spending big on nasty intraparty attacks – two Republican-related groups, Virginia Cornerstone PAC and Americans for Limited Government, have launched radio and direct mail pieces with negative attacks against fellow Republicans.
Even if the Virginia GOP makes it out of the primary fight in one piece, Chase and Rep. Denver Riggleman have threatened to mount independent runs.
Read more about the messy VA GOP primary fight below.
The Republican Party of Virginia has voted four times since December to nominate its candidates for this year’s statewide races at a convention instead of in a primary election. But in a sign of the Trumpian times of denial and dispute in the G.O.P., nearly half of the party’s top officials are still trying to reverse the results.
The refusal of these Republicans to admit that they have lost, or to agree on a set of nominating rules, has fractured a state party already in upheaval: Republicans haven’t won a statewide election since 2009, and they now find themselves with legislative minorities for the first time in a generation. Even the broken windows at the state party’s Richmond headquarters haven’t been fixed for months.
Just a month after former President Donald J. Trump left office, Virginia’s drama is the first state-level boomerang of his legacy. State Republicans have internalized the lesson that there is no benefit to accepting results they don’t like, and the result is a paralyzed party unable to set the date, location and rules for how and when it will pick its 2021 nominees for statewide office, including the race for governor.
The intraparty dispute has scrambled longstanding political alliances and left Virginia Republicans in the awkward position of defending stances that were once anathema to a party that has been redefined by the Trump era.
“It’s very much about not accepting the results and trying to change the rules and game the election,” said former Representative Tom Davis, a moderate Republican who won seven terms in Congress from a Northern Virginia district. “The reality now is even when Republicans pull together, they have a hard time winning, and when they’re divided, they have no shot of winning.”
The party’s decision on Dec. 5 to hold a May 1 convention rather than a June 8 primary was widely seen as an effort to stop Amanda Chase, a firebrand state senator who calls herself “Trump in heels,” from claiming the party’s nomination for governor.
“The fact that there’s a minority faction who lost that are standing in the way of a safe convention to try to get the primary that they couldn’t win fairly — that says a lot about them,” said Patti Lyman, the Republican national committeewoman for Virginia. “All their arguments can be boiled down to: We lost, and we don’t like it.”
Ms. Chase, who was still arguing with less than a week left in Mr. Trump’s presidency that he could yet be inaugurated for a second term, said Thursday that she “doesn’t trust conventions,” which she said unfairly limit voting access for members of the military and others who can’t make it to an in-person site.
The party’s squabble centers on a crowded group of Republican contenders for governor that includes one candidate each from the G.O.P.’s Trump and establishment wings, along with two wealthy wild cards. The major candidates include Ms. Chase; Kirk Cox, a former State House speaker, who is the favorite of the party’s elected state legislators; Pete Snyder, a millionaire technology executive who lost a bid for the lieutenant governor nomination at a party convention in 2013; and Glenn Youngkin, an even wealthier former chief executive in private equity who is a newcomer to politics.
In past intramural skirmishes, conservative Virginia Republicans have pushed for conventions to give a larger voice to the most hard-line party activists. In 2013, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II won the nomination for governor at a convention after his social conservative allies boxed out more moderate candidates who preferred a primary.
But the current disagreement has more to do with derailing Ms. Chase and Mr. Youngkin, who threatened to blanket the state with tens of millions of dollars of television advertising ahead of any primary.
Allies of Mr. Snyder have pushed for a convention by arguing that Mr. Youngkin would buy the election if it went to a primary.
The inability to organize a nominating contest has brought ridicule to a disorganized party aiming to win a statewide election for the first time in 12 years. John Fredericks, a radio talk show host who was the Virginia state chairman for Mr. Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns, has organized bingo games to mock the party’s marathon Zoom meetings, which have each lasted four to eight hours.
“To be four months away from the nomination and not have a process is terribly embarrassing and shows an unwillingness to compromise for the good of the party,” said former Gov. Bob McDonnell, the last Virginia Republican to win a statewide election. “Every passing day hurts whoever our eventual nominee is for myriad reasons.”
Sixteen minutes after The New York Times emailed State Central Committee members asking questions about the Republicans’ internal nomination battle, the party’s general counsel, Chris Marston, who is also Mr. Snyder’s campaign compliance lawyer, emailed committee members asking them not to speak to reporters.
Ms. Chase this week won support for her primary push from Mr. Youngkin. During an interview with a Charlottesville radio station on Tuesday, Mr. Youngkin, whose supporters want a primary, said it was “not fair” that the party had created uncertainty for the candidates in its nominating process.
“Boy, can I sympathize with Senator Chase on her frustration,” he said. “Here we are on February the 16th, we have an election in November, and we don’t even have a plan to select our candidate. I mean, this is absolutely amazing to me.”
As Republicans across the country struggle with how much Mr. Trump should influence the direction of the party and whom it nominates for key races in 2022 and eventually for president in 2024, Virginia’s Republicans remain mired in their procedural fight.
Those pushing for a primary say they won’t give up.