Corey Stewart’s Perpetual Anger Machine

The four GOP candidates for governor gathered earlier this week at Smith Mountain Lake for the second in a lengthy series of six debates.  If you are looking for a general recap of what happened, I’ll gladly direct you to this Roanoke Times rundown, because I have a different concern in mind: how one candidate is happy to trample over the rights and expertise of local governments as part of an attempt to scare his way into office.

In some ways I feel guilty about giving a candidate attention for this kind of behavior – the three other contenders have broadly displayed the sense of basic civility most people would hope for in a leader.  But as the old saying goes, sometimes the irrationally angry and eternally victimized fear-mongering wheel gets the grease.

As with any debate, the conversation ranged across a wide number of topics, from job creation to transportation to immigration policy.  So how did the Stewart campaign decide to present things afterwards?  By recycling the apocalyptic rhetoric which was the hallmark of both his debate performance and his campaign in general.

Last month it was Tyranny! which threatened the commonwealth, and the yelling was directed at a “particularly heinous individual” who played a part in the decision by Charlottesville to remove a Robert E. Lee statue.  The fact this mainly led to coverage of Stewart as a hypocrite did not dissuade him from banging the drum of Amnesty! this time around, attempting to vilify Ed Gillespie with various insults for being insufficiently zealous in pursuing every last imaginable policy to rid the commonwealth of those who arrived illegally.  Yet those policies have consequences which both violate conservative principles and may cause far more problems than they solve.

As noted by Gillespie during the debate, you can disagree with a local decision (e.g. to remove the statue) and still recognize that having state leaders trample over it is a bad idea.  As a sitting chairman of a Board of Supervisors, this argument should resonate with Stewart.  But certain people only recognize the virtue of limiting power when it belongs to somebody else.

The same thing is happening on illegal immigration, where Stewart threatens to strip localities of law enforcement aid (known as “599 funding”) if they don’t obey his commands from on high.  Never mind that local leaders, including police departments and sheriff’s offices, know how to best protect the people they serve.  In some places, illegal immigrants may be a source of crime and federal cooperation will make sense.  In others, these immigrants may be in a position to help solve more serious crimes by coming forward as witnesses.  Every minute and dollar spent on immigration is not spent on drug enforcement, stopping violent crime, or other pressing needs a community may have.  Illegal immigration is a problem, but it is not always the problem.

Nobody in Virginia is engaging in tyranny or proposing amnesty, and local law enforcement refusing to take on an unfunded mandate to do the federal government’s job isn’t an example of “flouting the law.”  But it is hard to appoint yourself as hero without a villain to save people from, so somebody – or some group of people – must be vilified.

It’s easy to assume that Stewart isn’t angry because the commonwealth is headed for ruin; he’s angry because his own campaign is headed for ruin unless he can convince enough people to be afraid of enough things in a short enough time.  The substance here isn’t entirely new; I still recall listening to him defend his county-level actions on immigration at the 2013 state GOP convention while trying unsuccessfully to fight his way out of a crowded pack of LG candidates.  But I don’t recall anything resembling this relentless kind of hatred and nastiness.  Even if Stewart were correct on the threat posed by such immigrants (and he isn’t), the spitefulness he relies on is both counterproductive to his goals and beneath the offices he seeks.

Did the rise of populism during the presidential campaign unleash a side of Stewart he had previously kept restrained for fear of harming his career?  If so, he should remember that he is not Donald Trump (and his opponents are not Hillary Clinton).  Or is he just trying to mimic someone else because they were successful?  Neither of these is a very good answer, and if this approach is the only way he can draw a meaningful contrast with his opponents, then perhaps he shouldn’t be running against them.

  • mezurak

    No need to worry your little head. Your guy will win the primary. But by the real election don’t expect republican voters to show up. By that time Congress will have alienated the base to the point where no one will believe a GOP candidate on anything.

    • John E. McGlothlin

      Why do you think Congress will have alienated the base? Failure to repeal Obamacare, or something else?

  • Chad Parker

    “one candidate is happy to trample over the rights and expertise of local governments”

    Sounds like Bryce Reeves’s SB1157:

    B. A political subdivision and any of its related associations or onstock corporations covered by this section shall be prohibited from using public funds to support lobbying efforts on behalf of such political subdivision

  • Henry Ryto

    Virginia Beach’s fringe right uses the same method: they keep their sycophants perpetually angry so their “leaders” can better control them. Given that one of their “leaders” is also a paid staffer for Corey Stewart, it’s not surprising.

    The problem is that it will be a statewide primary. Such a method will only work if turnout is abysmal.

    • YGtrece

      Who is Corey staffer in VB

    • John E. McGlothlin

      There is going to be an uptick in this kind of behavior; VA is just seeing it first because we’re on the calendar next. Stewart doesn’t seem to be connecting with voters, so hopefully this method will fail even if turnout is low.

  • If Corey Stewart keeps this angry stuff going too long everyone is going to think he is a Bernie Sanders supporter!

  • Wally Erb

    It seems the over-shadowing event was the discussion concerning the movement of War Memorials.

    I would think that a candidate for Governor would be familiar with the provisions in the Code of Virginia. In this case, Memorials for war veterans § 15.2-1812 would be applicable.

    “If such are erected, it shall be unlawful for the authorities of the locality,or any other person or persons, to disturb or interfere with any monuments or memorials so erected, or to prevent its citizens from taking proper measures and exercising proper means for the protection, preservation and care of same.”

    Further, the role of local governments are tempered by realization that the Commonwealth follows the Dillion rule with respect to its governmental sub-divisions.

    Gillespie said. “I think those city council members should be voted out of office for voting for that, but at the same time, to have the state come in and say we’re going to mandate through the cities and counties what they can do relative to their statues sets a very dangerous precedent for the future.”

    Gillespie rationalized, if a Republican governor intervened to salvage the Charlottesville statue, a future Democratic governor could interpret that precedent in another way and come in and require all localities to remove all statues.

    This is a bit embarrassing that Gillespie believes a future Democratic Governor can unilaterally change the Virginia Code using enforcement of the Code as a precedent to defy the code. What was he thinking?

    • Chad Parker

      I think your assumptions regarding COV § 15.2-1812 may be oversimplified. The current section you cite only applies to monuments erected after 1998.

      HB 587 in 2016 sought to expand that code section, passed, and was vetoed by the Governor. It would have expanded the code to include monuments erected before 1998.

  • MD Russ

    Good analysis, John. One overlooked possibility is that Stewart’s Depends is perpetually soiled. That would explain a lot.

    • John E. McGlothlin

      Thanks – I think it’s important to keep an eye out for who picks up on populism and how successful they are with it. They shouldn’t get a pass for behaving this way.

      • MD Russ

        Agree. The problem is that there is a very thin line between populism and nativism/racism. Trump and Stewart appear to be appealing to the latter much more than the former. And it is their supporters who worry me much more than they themselves do.

        • John E. McGlothlin

          I almost think some level of nativism/racism is required for populism, but I haven’t studied those terms in any kind of academic way.

          I disagree about the supporters, though – people who are angry or afraid may be susceptible to manipulation, but I still blame/worry about the manipulators and not the average citizens being used by them. Also, while I don’t travel in circles where being openly racist is acceptable (so I can’t say what percentage of people actually feel a certain way), there are a substantial number of people who supported Trump despite his worst traits and not because of them. They were driven not by animus toward minorities but by anger/frustration with the political leaders they rightly saw as responsible for the status quo… they just picked something worse to replace it, unfortunately.

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