The Quiet Competence of Frank Wagner

Virginia’s GOP gubernatorial primary has been grinding on for months now, slowly inching towards June 13.  While most of the press coverage has focused on the inevitability of Ed Gillespie and the buffoonery of Corey Stewart, one thing has gone relatively unnoticed – the quiet competence of Frank Wagner.

It’s a shame.  In any other year, in any other political climate, Frank Wagner’s no-nonsense, firm grasp of the facts, focus on issues that matter to Virginians, and long record of governance would be an asset.  Instead, he has languished at the bottom of the polls.  His first major introduction to voters was last week’s primary debate at Liberty University.

Leaving aside the obvious need to contrast himself with the other two candidates, Wagner’s debate performance was everything that you would expect in a veteran legislator.  He knew what he was talking about, and he rightly pointed out that while his opponents were talking about issues, he had the experience actually legislating on them in the General Assembly.

So why isn’t he gaining any traction?

There remains, deeply ingrained in the grassroots of the Republican Party, a distrust and a dislike of long-serving elected officials.  Wagner has spent 16 years in the Senate and 9 years in the House of Delegates, for a combined 25 years in the General Assembly.  That is a wealth of experience, and dwarfs Stewart’s ten years in local government, and Gillespie’s two years as a senior advisor to President Bush.  There is no comparing their experience – Wagner wins hands down. In fairness, Ed Gillespie is likely to win the primary because he’s a strong candidate and a superb campaigner.  He has done everything right.  The only area where he comes up short is in governing experience.

The modern GOP, however, doesn’t seem to like experience.  Many activists look at long serving legislators like Wagner, or Bob Goodlatte, and find their service and experience to be liabilities, rather than benefits.  Many GOPers still cling to the idealistic, but naive, belief that modern government can be run well by political outsiders with no experience, going so far as to elect the first U.S. President who had never served a single day in any kind of public service job until day one of his presidency.  With that attitude, coupled with the traditional Republican skepticism of government as a problem solver, it’s not surprising, even if it is disappointing, that the candidate who can demonstrate the most prolonged competence at governance is the one trailing the farthest in the polls.  Thus, Gillespie has emerged as the consensus front-runner, with his lack of experience not being a real issue.

Experience alone, though, isn’t why Wagner has not been gaining in the polls.  Corey Stewart has been “surging” in the polls (to 12%), as the Richmond Times-Dispatch noted – while still referring to Stewart as “a joke.”

Wagner’s stagnation is also because he has refused to stoop to Corey Stewart’s level in trying to gain ground on Ed Gillespie.  Stewart, when he isn’t wrapping himself in the Confederate flag, has been doing everything in his power to undermine Gillespie’s candidacy, from spreading fake news headlines on social media, to pushing the “Establishment Ed” moniker so far it’s become almost ubiquitous, even among Gillespie supporters.  Gillespie, to his credit, has largely ignored Stewart’s nonsense, much like a shark ignores the pilot fish hovering around him hoping for an easy meal.  Wagner, on the other hand, hasn’t been attacked or the attacker.  He’s largely focused on issues and highlighted his resume, background and experience.  Sure, there’s the inevitable nod to Gillespie’s DC experience that you’ll find in any campaign against a Northern Virginian, but he has not piled on the way Stewart has.  Unfortunately, this is yet another example of where good behavior is punished and bad behavior rewarded.

For some reason, there is a subset of the Republican Party, especially in Virginia, who fall in love with any candidate who acts like a horse’s ass to their opponents.  Maybe it’s the id of the GOP, or maybe Alfred was right, but the reality is that there is a solid group of supporters for any candidate out there who is willing to take the low road.  Stewart is appealing to those voters and getting the short-term bump.  Wagner has chosen not to do that, and that’s to his credit, even if it doesn’t show up in the polling.

Wagner’s analog on the Democratic side is, oddly enough, Ralph Northam – another Virginia Beach area legislator with a wealth of experience, and who has been running a relatively boring campaign so far against progressive darling Tom Perriello.  Northam, however, is the only establishment candidate in his primary, so he has the benefit of being the front runner.  Had Gillespie not joined this race, it’s likely Wagner would be enjoying a lead over Stewart, too.

A race between Northam (the old bipartisan version of him, at least) and Wagner would provide Virginia with the benefit of a campaign between two experienced, capable legislators who could be relied upon to work with the General Assembly to govern Virginia – as opposed to the current occupant of the Governor’s Mansion.  That would be a refreshing change of pace for Virginia’s voters – a choice between two candidates who have the experience and the character to handle the job well.  We have had very few of these races over the last seven years, with voters opting over and over again for firebrands that are all sizzle and no steak, rather than the quiet competence of the Virginia Way.

Frank Wagner, in any other year, would be a strong candidate for Governor.  Unfortunately, he chose to run in 2017, when GOP voters have been penalizing competence and encouraging bad behavior.

It’s a shame that such a solid legislator can’t seem to gain traction in today’s GOP.


  • The Derecho

    How utterly unsurprising that you would support the one candidate that sponsored bills to increase transportation taxes in NOVA and Tidewater, acts as Dominon’s chief waterboy and sponsored rate/refund/review freeze bill and has pledged to raise taxes as Governor.

    • I’m personally supporting Ed Gillespie.

      • AnninVA26

        the second thing we agree on.

    • Sbn

      At least he’s telling you up front. The others notsomuch. Not a big fan of disingenuous candidate bs for just long enough to get your vote but if it floats your boat, have at it.

  • Turbocohen

    Few GOP volunteers from any faction fall in love with any candidate who acts like a horse’s ass to their fellow party members and constituents. Brian, the activists in units across Va know Wagner for one bad act that was never supported by Gillespie.. Slating.

  • It’s very rare I agree with Brian, but he’s on the money here. Its not about who we’re supporting; Brian is simply making observations here.

    • Brian seems to have forgotten Wagner has never met a tax he didn’t embrace. His support of the massive transportation tax hike in 2013, his support of more taxes on gasoline, and his promise to raise taxes if elected Governor, all tell us why he would never be a Republican nominee for Governor even if his only opponent was Donald Duck or that other cartoon character who is running.

      • Brian didn’t forget that and he isn’t supporting Frank. He’s supporting Ed. I didn’t forget that when I pointed out Frank is running the most honest campaign in our primary.

      • Just enjoy that it took Brian a few days to steal an article I wrote for your site 😉

        • Did you? I don’t read it, so I must have missed that.

          • Oops, we forgot you are banned from commenting on TBE so of course you wouldn’t bother to go there. If you can’t pontificate, why read there?

          • Has nothing to do with being banned. I don’t read sites written by racists like you, Jeanine. Sorry.

      • That transportation bill was necessary and it’s going a long way to fixing the massive infrastructure issues we’ve got in Northern Virginia. Wagner deserves credit for helping to fix this problem.

        I’m not aware of his “promise to raise taxes if elected Governor.” Where was that?

        • It’s doing wonders for the Metro? For our roads? Let’s have a show of hands on whose commute has gotten better since we began paying 20% more in sales tax and more in gas taxes?

        • He said it when he was in Loudoun. He spent half of his speech telling us how great taxes are and why he wants even more tax increases. The other half of the speech he talked about ship building and how important that is. Apparently he didn’t notice Loudoun is landlocked and Dave LaRock became Delegate Dave LaRock because of the 2013 tax increase. Republicans in Loudoun do not want more taxes! We’ve been Taxed Enough Already! And the odds are long for us building ships in Loudoun. Wagner knew nothing about his audience.

          • Do you happen to have a transcript of the speech where he promised to raise taxes on you?

  • FrankUnderwoodSr

    Recently there was a referendum on government experience versus dogged determination to solve problems. The problem solver with zero government experience won.

    That result is testament to the good sense of the American people. They know that government experience is over-rated. If it were important, Bernie Sanders would be President.

    • It’s important to doing the job, not winning the job. Unfortunately, there’s a complete disconnect between the two functions.

      • FrankUnderwoodSr

        Where is your evidence for that assertion? Great leaders are not born through government service and experience. Great leaders are not great because they were expert at manipulating the levers of government. They’re often great despite the opposition of established institutions.

        • And where’s your evidence for that assertion?

          Who would you consider to be a great American leader? Chances are, they probably had a long history of government or public service under their belts.

        • MD Russ

          I would tend to agree with you, but Donald Trump has not shown any evidence that he is a leader at all, much less a great leader. Rather, he has served merely as a rallying point for under-achieving malcontents who need to blame someone else for their miserable failure in life.

    • Stephen Spiker

      1) The “problem solver” received 3 million fewer votes; and

      2) Lost Virginia by 5 points.

      • FrankUnderwoodSr

        And he won.

        • Stephen Spiker

          Obviously. But your original comment made it seem as if it was some sort of referendum on “experience”, and that the same “lesson” should be taken into account in Virginia, despite the fact that more Americans voted for Clinton’s experience, and Trump wasn’t even close in winning Virginia.

          So what lesson should campaigns learn in this race because of that?

          • FrankUnderwoodSr

            He won.

          • He’s not debating the win – he’s pointing out to you that your claim that the last election was a referendum on government experience wasn’t actually a referendum on government experience.

            Experience is never overrated.

          • Stephen Spiker

            What lesson should we take from Trump’s election here in Virginia?

    • MD Russ

      Mr. Anonymous Commenter,

      Precisely what problem has Donald Trump solved? How to have the lowest approval rating of any President during his first 100 days? How to convince 55% of all Americans that their President routinely lies to them? How to botch health care reform so badly that he had to give it a New Jersey “fugetabloutit?” Are we tired of winning yet?

  • E. Burke

    Where Ed Gillespie comes up short is in his support for open borders and not enforcing our immigration laws. He is the typical RINO doing the bidding of the corporate donor class that owns him.

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