The race for the Chairmanship of the Republican Party of Virginia has been a sleepy one, at least so far. Only current Chairman John Whitbeck has announced his candidacy, back in June, and until yesterday, there were no obvious challengers to face him. Now there are signs that it will be a sleepy race no longer.
Party insiders have been hearing rumors for a while now of a breakdown in the relationship between Chairman Whitbeck and some members of the “Conservative Fellowship,” the anti-establishment pro-convention group primarily made up of State Central Committee members. The rumors were confirmed when Russ Moulton , who holds no official office within the RPV hierarchy but is a frequent proxy holder at SCC meetings and is widely viewed as the leader of the pro-convention faction, sent an email to the members of the Fellowship earlier this week with criticisms of Whitbeck and the announcement that he could not endorse Whitbeck for Chair. Despite the fact that the statement itself was surprising – Moulton endorsed Whitbeck, was one of his staunchest supporters and helped ensure other potential candidates for RPV Chair like Eric Herr stepped aside – it got little play outside of the small group of party insiders to whom it was sent.
Last night, however, former LG and Delegate candidate and Stafford Board of Supervisors Chair Susan Stimpson decided to take the attack up a notch, spreading Moulton’s email far and wide, using what appears to be her convention race and delegate race lists. This kind of airing of dirty party laundry is rare among the anti-establishment wing, who tend not to fight one another publicly.
You can read the email here:
|Dear fellow Conservative,I wanted to make sure you saw this email I received from long-time conservative leader Russ Moulton.The actions of the current Virginia Republican Party Chairman should concern every Republican across the state. This is about a pattern of behavior. Like most politicians — John Whitbeck said one thing when he ran for party chairman and then once elected, abandoned his promises to us.
Quite simply, Virginia Republicans can’t trust John Whitbeck any more.
After reading the email below, ask yourself if this is the leadership Republicans should depend on to deliver a Republican victory in Virginia in 2016.
From: Russ Moulton [redacted by BD]
To: Russ Moulton [redacted by BD]
Sent: Sat, Nov 14, 2015 5:03 pm
Subject: Why I can’t endorse John Whitbeck for re-election
Because I was once a strong supporter of John Whitbeck – and someone who helped “clear the field” and secure the votes to elect him RPV Chairman, many of you have asked me why I am not supporting him for re-election.
The answer is simple: broken promises to conservatives.
When John was a candidate for Chairman, and sought the support of conservatives on State Central, he provided us written campaign promises on key Party matters that won him lots of votes and my endorsement. Among them were:
(1) To strongly support party-run processes like conventions and oppose state-run, plurality-wins/”no-run-off” primaries where Democrats can vote and corrupt our nominations, and
(2) To consult with conservatives on the State Central committee on key issues (like methods of nomination, and key appointments, such as RPV Exec Director and General Counsel).
John vacillated on the Convention for President in 2016, and ultimately was instrumental in killing it. At first, he told us he’d keep his promise and was excited about the record grassroots involvement and revenue a Presidential Convention could bring our Party. But then, after he talked with numerous establishment entities like those at RNC, he flipped, telling us he could no longer support it. When we reminded him of his written promise and asked that he honor his word, he eventually flopped back to telling us he’d support it. But John still refused to publicly support it, or lobby votes for it, and worked behind the scenes to undermine it. For example, he attempted to delay action until a Primary would have become a fait accompli, by attempting to delay SCC meetings for months. Had John merely kept his promise and expressed his public support for the Presidential Convention, it would have passed easily. John’s lack of leadership here divided conservatives on SCC and resulted in the Convention failing by just 2 votes – and our Party missing an unprecedented opportunity to swell our ranks with conservative activists being brought in by the Presidential campaigns.
John had also given conservatives assurances the 10th District Committee and his successor District Chairman would support a party-run process for Congress. Unfortunately, he did not engage here, and the 10th District committee voted for a Primary for Congress – with his hand-picked successor casting the tie-breaking vote for that Primary.
With respect to consulting with conservatives on SCC, we’ve seen very little of this. John has made two key appointments at RPV without consulting conservatives on SCC.
I believe the RPV Chairman should be someone who not only keeps his word, but leads on conservative issues like these on important Party matters.
I realize that John is presently unopposed, and I do not know if an opponent will emerge against him. But this is a matter of principle for me, not personal. For the above reasons, I simply cannot endorse John Whitbeck for re-election.
“The people making those attacks have had a very bad year in politics,” responded Chairman Whitbeck in an email to Bearing Drift. “At the same time, the RPV has had a very good year. With our help we have 5 presidential candidates on the ballot with more to come, we have paid down a significant majority of our debt, the Advance is doing very well, and in 2015 we played a significant role in the success of Republicans at the state and local level. These people and their emails are the politics of yesterday. A strong and united State Party that wins elections are the politics of today.”
The kind of flat out attack on a sitting RPV Chairman running for reelection that Moulton and Stimpson have made here is relatively rare. Other than the blistering attacks leveled by Jeff Frederick’s wife at former RPV Chairman John Hager during their campaign, this kind of attack is uncommon, especially in an unconstested race. The tone of the email itself was surprising, as were the attacks on 10th District Chair Jo Thoburn, who, by all accounts, has been doing a good job in running the 10th District since Whitbeck’s promotion. It’s also surprising to see the primary criticisms here are failures to abide by backroom deals and pledges, rather than any substantive criticisms of Whitbeck’s tenure as Chairman.
All signs seem to point to a potential Susan Stimpson run against Whitbeck. She has been one of the loudest voices, along with Moulton, against Whitbeck’s leadership recently – not only in sending out this email but also comments in a variety of public forums that have been critical of Whitbeck, including his correct interpretation of the RPV Party Plan that led to the automatic resignation of Del. Mark Berg from State Central and the 10th District. This kind of pre-announcement email campaign was similar to how she launched her Delegate campaign.
If she does decide to run, an announcement could come at any time. If it does, Stimpson is, by all measures, a credible candidate. A former elected official, with a well-run albeit unsuccessful statewide bid and a more prominent unsuccessful House of Delegates bid, Stimpson is known and trusted by party activists and insiders across Virginia. She does not, however, have Whitbeck’s experience running a unit and her acerbic campaign against Virginia’s most senior elected Republican, Speaker of the House of Delegates Bill Howell, would make for a difficult relationship between RPV and the House caucus if elected. A convention battle between the two, given Whitbeck’s significant support in the past and Stimpson’s statewide network, would pit two pro-party run process, anti-establishment conservatives against each other – a rarity in today’s Virginia political scene. At the very least, it should be a draw to next year’s RPV convention, which would be a boon to party finances.
It is still very early in the process, however. Whitbeck’s announcement of his reelection campaign came nearly a full year before the convention, and so far no other candidates have chosen to throw their hats in the ring. It’s unclear if this nascent fight will lead to any additional candidates.
Bearing Drift’s Rollin Reisinger asked Susan Stimpson tonight after the publishing of this article whether she intended to run, and she closed the door on a potential candidacy. With Stimpson out of the running, this makes the attacks all the more odd. Given that there are no potential candidates circulating at this point, attacking Whitbeck publicly for no tactical reason doesn’t make a lot of sense. Instead of prepping a potential pro-convention candidate, these attacks now seem simply petty.
@RollinReisinger  I am not running for state party chairman.
— Susan Stimpson (@SusanBStimpson) November 21, 2015 
With Stimpson not a potential candidate, this makes these attacks all the more odd. Given that there are no potential candidates circulating at this point, attacking Whitbeck publicly for no tactical reason doesn’t make a lot of sense. Instead of prepping a potential pro-convention candidate, these attacks now seem pointless.