Virginia’s Splintered GOP

by James A. Bacon

Shaun Kenney a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia, offers a useful perspective into the state of Virginia’s GOP in a post-Trump presidency. The Grand Old Party in the Old Dominion is so fractured, he suggests in a new post on The Republican Standard, that it soon may descend into a “five-way civil war.”

Of particular interest is Kenney’s typology of the ideological factions within the party (here I quote him directly):

  1. Nationalists are adopting the Donald Trump rhetoric and adapting it to their own cause. Their ideas … at the local or state level have yet to play out. While the leadership (sic) would prefer to tap into the energy of the alt-right, the rank-and-file are far from it. Most of them see the violence of BLM/Antifa and say “not here; not ever” and define themselves likewise — knowing that the America their values helped build is an America worth keeping. Whether they can find better champions remains to be seen.
  2. Libertarians have offered the most stout resistance to this idea. Call them the inheritors of the Tea Party or the modern-day Sons of Liberty, but their idea of the Republican Party is much more in line with the values of Ron Paul than Donald Trump. Classical liberals, lowercase-L libertarians, and Tea Party types all find their home here.
  3. Conservatives remain the 800-lb. gorilla in the room, if for no other reason than conservatives have identified the landscape for so long. Built in the mold of Ronald Reagan and Edmund Burke, the purpose of government is to set the rules and then get out of the way. A strong education system, good roads, and well paid teachers and deputies with as little red tape as possible.
  4. Moderates are a trickier bunch. They really haven’t had a champion since former Rep. Tom Davis — and Davis was in truth no slouch on taxes or economic freedom — but should the disaffected “law and order” moderate come back home to the Republican Party in a 2021 tidal wave, it will be through someone who is willing to set down Divisive Social Issues (TM) in order to carry home a fiscally moderate yet prudent agenda.
  5. Traditionalists are a more complicated bunch who are on the horizon and more prevalent a force than people realize. Restoring the dignity of human life, restoring marriage to its proper role in society, restoring a sense of self-reliance and self-worth, and restoring faith to its proper role alongside conscience are all necessary for the moral ordering of society. If the secular left can regiment our children to believe certain moral values, the religious right can do very much likewise.

The main thing I would add is that, at this moment in time, the Republican Party appears to be undergoing a seismic realignment. The fundamental divide in the United States today — the new class divide — is between the cultural and political elites, who with their smug sense of moral superiority I call the Insufferables, and the non-elites, who have proudly taken to calling themselves the Deplorables. To burnish their self-righteousness, the Insufferables have championed the causes of what they described as “marginalized” elements of society, often at the expense of the Deplorables. The Insufferables are on a crusade to transform society; the Deplorables mainly just want to be left alone.

It is useful to view today’s GOP as a party of working-class and middle-class Deplorables, who feel increasingly alienated from the nation’s dominant cultural, political and economic institutions, including Big Business. Insofar as that pattern continues to hold true, the GOP will remain the party of Trump even without Trump. The soon-to-be-ex president did a superb job of turning out the base. However, he did an even better job of turning out the Democrats’ base. Other than his modestly effective outreach to Hispanics and African Americans, Trump did not expand the GOP coalition.

How can the GOP expand its coalition in Virginia without losing the Nationalists and Traditionalists who comprise its base? If someone can answer that question, he or she could become the next Republican governor of Virginia. If not, Virginia will become a one-party state… and it won’t be Republicans running the show.