Shaun Kenney – the Executive Director We Need, But Don’t Deserve
With the news that John Findlay had tendered his resignation as Executive Director of the Republican Party of Virginia, it was inevitable that rumors of potential replacements would be swirling.
It was surprising, however, to see a histrionic blog post declaring that Shaun Kenney, formerly Executive Director of the RPV, a former Editor of Bearing Drift (as you can see by the photo) and currently the Editor-in-Chief of the Republican Standard, would be returning to the role.
Surprising, first of all, because if Kenney had actually accepted the post, it’s more likely the news would have been broken in a press release from RPV and second, because Kenney hasn’t actually been offered or accepted the position.
As is usually the case from the blog and the blogger in question, the story is wrong in all its essentials, but that’s what they’re known for over there.
If only it were actually true. The story that Kenney, who has been successful in both of his stints working for the state party, would come back in our time of need to help restore RPV is a story right out of JRR Tolkien. For those of us despairing that the Virginia GOP will ever get back on track, Kenney returning would be the first sign of spring in this long winter of our discontent.
We all know how bad it is right now: 2019 is the lowest ebb for Virginia Republicans in half a century. We control no statewide offices. Our Congressional delegation has gone from 8 of 11 in 2012 to 4 of 11 in 2019. We’ve lost control of the House of Delegates for the first time in twenty years, and the Democrats have control of the Governor’s mansion and the entire General Assembly for the first time since 1992. They will also control the entire redistricting process, which will likely occur in 2021.
In terms of fundraising, we have lost all of our biggest fundraisers. Speakers Howell and Cox, who oversaw a massive fundraising operation that helped to protect the majority in the House, are both gone, with Howell retiring and Speaker Cox stepping down from leadership. Eric Cantor, who raised millions for the party when he was House Majority Leader, is a distant memory. Minority Leader Gilbert is going to have to find new ways to raise money to support the caucus, especially without having the majority to help drive fundraising. No statewide elected officials means no access to large statewide donors, and the business leaders and big dollar donors that have traditionally supported RPV and our statewide candidates have been reticent to give in the current environment, and no one can honestly blame them. Winning begets winning, and losing doesn’t. And we’ve been doing a lot of losing.
Thus, if we want to turn the ship around, the first thing we need to do is put some stability back into the state party. While Shaun Kenney has his share of detractors, especially in the far right and alt-right wings of Virginia politics, he also has strong support among the pro-life and religious communities, and his views on the vast majority of conservative issues lands him well within the mainstream of the conservative movement. At the same time, his pioneering stance against nativism and his willingness to simply sit down and talk with traditionally Democratic constituencies to show them that there is a place for them in the GOP and the conservative movement have endeared him to moderates and independents. He is one of the few people who can bridge the gap between the wings.
After all, Kenney got his start in politics trying to primary a moderate Republican who had voted wrong on taxes. Up until his last stint as Executive Director of the party, where he committed the heresy of actually sitting down and talking to non-white people who didn’t like Republicans, no one had ever called his ideology into question. Those who do so now are largely doing so out of either petty jealousy or latent senility. It has no basis in fact. Kenney is as mainstream a Republican and a conservative as anyone in the movement. Given his experience within the party, both as Communications Director and Executive Director, as well as his experience as an activist and later as an elected official in Fluvanna County, he is one of the very few people who has the potential to unite the elected officials, the party apparatus, the donors and the grassroots into a coherent body working together, which is the only way we will be able to reverse the current trend and start winning again.
In the end, Shaun Kenney is that most important of things that we are lacking in GOP politics in Virginia right now: he’s a known quantity. If anything, RPV needs the stability of someone that most folks in Virginia politics know, including the types of people that RPV desperately needs – donors.
As noted before, RPV Chairman Jack Wilson has not offered Kenney the Executive Director’s position, but he should. Kenney is what RPV needs right now.
Now, whether Shaun should take it is a completely different question.
Cover photo: (left to right) Brian Schoeneman, Shaun Kenney, Scott Lee, Jim Hoeft, Norm Leahy