Dave Brat’s first public statement following his historic defeat of incumbent Eric Cantor was to call for party unity. It’s a common theme when anti-establishment candidates pull off wins against establishment candidates.
But, apparently, those calls for unity don’t seem to go the other way.
Supporters of Delegate Mark Berg, the far right Tea Party darling who beat long-time Delegate Bev Sherwood in the 29th House District GOP primary in 2013, have launched a write-in campaign on his behalf. Berg himself lost in the 2015 GOP primary to Frederick County Supervisor Chris Collins.
The hypocrisy of this move is hard to understate.
The 29th is a GOP bastion, and the Democrats have failed to field a nominee yet again, which means Collins’ win in June essentially won him the race. The Democratic party is almost non-existent in the 29th, where Democrats have failed to field a nominee for over 20 years – the last time they did so was in 1995, and they actually ran a guy named Dickie Dick. I am not making this up.
Collins won a close race against Berg in June, winning by 166 votes, 52% to 48%.
In response, according to the Winchester Star, a group of disgruntled Berg supporters are urging voters in the 29th to rally around the defeated incumbent, including self-proclaimed non-Republican “fiscal conservative” Franklin Fogle and Jay Marts, former president (and still active Board Member) of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Tea Party. Berg’s erstwhile supporters claim that Collins will support Governor McAuliffe’s attempts to expand Medicaid and that he urged Democrats to vote for him in the Republican primary. Right.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Close primaries tend to bring out the boogeyman of Democratic crossover, so that accusation isn’t surprising, and the idea that any Republican not named Tom Rust (who is retiring) would support Medicaid expansion is a stretch. It’s also not surprising that some on the far right are quick to jettison the calls for “party unity” when their candidate loses. These folks eagerly demand party loyalty when their candidates win, but seem to have trouble returning the favor when their candidates lose.
What is surprising, however, is the deafening silence coming from both Berg and from the far right blogosphere on this issue. Berg, an elected RPV State Central Committeeman, has not said he supports the write-in efforts, but he’s also not denounced them or otherwise suggested that his supporters stand down and support the GOP nominee. As noted in the Winchester Star article, repeated attempts to contact Dr. Berg were made with no response. Dr. Berg is no newcomer to party politics, and his role on State Central makes his silence on this issue unacceptable. Not a single of the far right blogs, who are usually so eager to demand party unity from those they oppose, has covered this story either. This is all the more surprising given the close relationship Berg has to some of those blogs.
We often hear the tired old claims that moderates or “establishment” conservatives refuse to support Tea Party members when they win (I had the same false charge leveled against me earlier this year by those same far right blogs), and that their lack of support costs Republicans elections. We’ve also heard the opposite is true – the claim, despite clear evidence to the contrary, that Mitt Romney failed to beat Barack Obama because he was too moderate and the Tea Party stayed home. Neither are correct, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t constantly repeated.
Yet here, we have a perfect example where those on the far right have a chance to do what they frequently admonish others to do and they’re noticeably silent. Instead of the usual calls to rally around and support the GOP nominee, we’re seeing the exact opposite. Given that this write-in campaign will fail, and Chris Collins will be the next Delegate from the 29th District, the public push for Berg doesn’t make much sense.
This situation demonstrates the danger we face in the Republican Party here in Virginia. There is a hardcore clique of individuals who have decided that their personal ideology trumps (no pun intended) their party affiliation. These activists pretend to be Republicans when it suits them, but when they are called upon to rally around a GOP nominee, especially a nominee who may not agree with them 100% on ideological questions, they balk. At the same time, they demand unswerving loyalty to their nominees from other members of the party if they pull off a win. It’s a breathtaking example of political hypocrisy. And it’s completely unacceptable.
At a bare minimum, if you are a Virginia Republican, and you stand for office seeking the Republican nomination, you have a moral (if not a legal) obligation to support the party’s nominee regardless of the outcome, no matter how you feel about them personally. As a long-time GOP activist, Delegate Berg should tell his supporters pushing this write-in campaign to stand down and support the GOP nominee, just like I’ve told my friends and supporters to support the Republican nominee in the race I lost earlier this year.
Voters can do what they like when it comes to party affiliation, but those of us who have served as party officials or nominees should be held to a higher standard of loyalty to the GOP. Let’s hope that Delegate Berg does the right thing and denounces these efforts on his behalf.