Boiling problems in western Virginia could lose Republicans a winnable state

On the evening of July 3, I watched President Trump's speech at Mt. Rushmore, a soaring defense of America and its values.  The next morning, I returned to the reality of the sad state of the Republican Party of Virginia, as exemplified by my own 6th Congressional District.

The 6th, in northwest Virginia, contains most of the Shenandoah Valley and routinely gives Republican candidates a vote share of 60% or more.  However, the Republican political situation is complicated.

The party is divided into three camps.  All three genuflect to the official Republican Creed of limited government, equal justice, free enterprise, religious faith, and fiscal responsibility, and each tries to outdo the others in swearing fealty to Trump, but differences are important.

Members of the faction usually called GOPe (for "establishment") have made their peace with imperial government as long as they can control it and benefit.  They are comfortable with ever growing spending, more bountiful benefits for government employees, less government accountability, and cozy relations.  Government is their rice bowl.

The GOPe controls the state party apparatus, which is criticized for a blend of sloth and incompetence.  As the GOPe demonstrated in the 2018 U.S. Senate election, it would rather lose to the Democrats than let a non-member of the faction win.  Its current state will probably cost Trump a state he could win and re-elect the slimy Democrat Mark Warner to the U.S. Senate instead of war hero Daniel Gade.

At the other end of the Republican spectrum is the Freedom Caucus, which has a strong, and mostly unheard, positive agenda: privatizing government functions, facilitating entrepreneurship, developing alternative educational options, realistic economic development, opposition to climate-change cronyism, a sense of fiduciary obligation to the taxpayers, and defense of American culture and values.

The third group is in the middle, not strongly engaged in politics, confused by the chaos; yearning for civility, peace, and unity; and perhaps unduly influenced by the politics of personal destruction.

Cutting across this tripartite division are the great social issues of abortion, sex and gender, Second Amendment, religious conviction, and wokeness.  The Freedom Caucus is firmly on the side of defending conservative values.  The GOPe is more wishy-washy on both social issues and wokeness.  A cynic would say it uses these to keep the Republican base from looking at the cozy link between the GOPe and government on economic issues.  The middle group is...well, in the middle, though probably more on the Freedom Caucus side.

The GOPe and the Freedom Caucus fight bitterly over control of the 32-member 6th District Committee.  The F.C. has a slight majority, but the winner of the chairmanship in 2018 was the GOPe's Jennifer Brown, who will seek re-election at a convention on July 11.  Her Freedom Caucus opponent is John Massoud, a business executive and municipal official of Afghani descent.

Relations between the two factions are poisonous.  Brown calls her party "male, pale, stale" and characterizes the committee she chairs as "a bunch of old people with nothing better to do."  She and her legal liaison (and fiancé) tweet comments about political opponents that astonish in their meanness and vulgarity.

Behind the personal vitriol is a serious philosophical disagreement.  Brown talks of the need to reach out to women, minorities, and Millennials, but with no specifics about substance.  She seems to want the Republicans to adopt identity politics à la Democrat, in which the only relevant identities are those of victim and government dependent.

The Freedom Caucus agrees on the need to respect identity politics but holds that every person has not one but many identities.  It is the Democrats who focus like lasers on those identities permeated with "victim" and "government dependent" to the exclusion of all else, such as worker, taxpayer, wife, mother, American, and many others.

For the Republicans to compete with Democrats over victimhood and dependence is suicidal.  The party needs to reach out to everyone in terms of identities that promote pride and agency, and on the principle that almost everyone would be better off under a Freedom Caucus agenda.

Whichever side wins the 6th District chairmanship next Saturday, current congressman Ben Cline should not rest easy.

He is in no trouble this year, when the great engine of Donald Trump will dominate out here.  But the intraparty chasm is wide, and things could change over the next couple of cycles.  If Brown wins and continues to push her opponents out of the party, with Cline's silence, the Freedom Caucus might well primary him in 2022.  The odds would be in his favor, but incumbency isn't what it used to be, and he could lose.  Cline has shiny Freedom Caucus credentials from his service in the Virginia Legislature, but the current acrimony has turned them into a wasting asset.

Were Cline to lose to a Freedom Caucus choice, the GOPe might well sit out the election or bolt to the Democrats.

If Massoud wins next Saturday, then Cline will have to take seriously the possibility that Brown's faction is so at odds with the Freedom Caucus that it would ally with the Democrats, in some kind of weird fusion based on victimhood and dependency.  This may seem improbable, but such alliances are actually occurring at the local level, such as my own Shenandoah County, and could be extended.

So watch the 6th District of Virginia.  Its politics provide an interesting window into the state of the nation.

James V DeLong lives in the Shenandoah Valley.  He is a graduate of the Harvard Law School and a combatant on the side of the Freedom Caucus.

Image: Mark Warner via Flickr.

On the evening of July 3, I watched President Trump's speech at Mt. Rushmore, a soaring defense of America and its values.  The next morning, I returned to the reality of the sad state of the Republican Party of Virginia, as exemplified by my own 6th Congressional District.

The 6th, in northwest Virginia, contains most of the Shenandoah Valley and routinely gives Republican candidates a vote share of 60% or more.  However, the Republican political situation is complicated.

The party is divided into three camps.  All three genuflect to the official Republican Creed of limited government, equal justice, free enterprise, religious faith, and fiscal responsibility, and each tries to outdo the others in swearing fealty to Trump, but differences are important.

Members of the faction usually called GOPe (for "establishment") have made their peace with imperial government as long as they can control it and benefit.  They are comfortable with ever growing spending, more bountiful benefits for government employees, less government accountability, and cozy relations.  Government is their rice bowl.

The GOPe controls the state party apparatus, which is criticized for a blend of sloth and incompetence.  As the GOPe demonstrated in the 2018 U.S. Senate election, it would rather lose to the Democrats than let a non-member of the faction win.  Its current state will probably cost Trump a state he could win and re-elect the slimy Democrat Mark Warner to the U.S. Senate instead of war hero Daniel Gade.

At the other end of the Republican spectrum is the Freedom Caucus, which has a strong, and mostly unheard, positive agenda: privatizing government functions, facilitating entrepreneurship, developing alternative educational options, realistic economic development, opposition to climate-change cronyism, a sense of fiduciary obligation to the taxpayers, and defense of American culture and values.

The third group is in the middle, not strongly engaged in politics, confused by the chaos; yearning for civility, peace, and unity; and perhaps unduly influenced by the politics of personal destruction.

Cutting across this tripartite division are the great social issues of abortion, sex and gender, Second Amendment, religious conviction, and wokeness.  The Freedom Caucus is firmly on the side of defending conservative values.  The GOPe is more wishy-washy on both social issues and wokeness.  A cynic would say it uses these to keep the Republican base from looking at the cozy link between the GOPe and government on economic issues.  The middle group is...well, in the middle, though probably more on the Freedom Caucus side.

The GOPe and the Freedom Caucus fight bitterly over control of the 32-member 6th District Committee.  The F.C. has a slight majority, but the winner of the chairmanship in 2018 was the GOPe's Jennifer Brown, who will seek re-election at a convention on July 11.  Her Freedom Caucus opponent is John Massoud, a business executive and municipal official of Afghani descent.

Relations between the two factions are poisonous.  Brown calls her party "male, pale, stale" and characterizes the committee she chairs as "a bunch of old people with nothing better to do."  She and her legal liaison (and fiancé) tweet comments about political opponents that astonish in their meanness and vulgarity.

Behind the personal vitriol is a serious philosophical disagreement.  Brown talks of the need to reach out to women, minorities, and Millennials, but with no specifics about substance.  She seems to want the Republicans to adopt identity politics à la Democrat, in which the only relevant identities are those of victim and government dependent.

The Freedom Caucus agrees on the need to respect identity politics but holds that every person has not one but many identities.  It is the Democrats who focus like lasers on those identities permeated with "victim" and "government dependent" to the exclusion of all else, such as worker, taxpayer, wife, mother, American, and many others.

For the Republicans to compete with Democrats over victimhood and dependence is suicidal.  The party needs to reach out to everyone in terms of identities that promote pride and agency, and on the principle that almost everyone would be better off under a Freedom Caucus agenda.

Whichever side wins the 6th District chairmanship next Saturday, current congressman Ben Cline should not rest easy.

He is in no trouble this year, when the great engine of Donald Trump will dominate out here.  But the intraparty chasm is wide, and things could change over the next couple of cycles.  If Brown wins and continues to push her opponents out of the party, with Cline's silence, the Freedom Caucus might well primary him in 2022.  The odds would be in his favor, but incumbency isn't what it used to be, and he could lose.  Cline has shiny Freedom Caucus credentials from his service in the Virginia Legislature, but the current acrimony has turned them into a wasting asset.

Were Cline to lose to a Freedom Caucus choice, the GOPe might well sit out the election or bolt to the Democrats.

If Massoud wins next Saturday, then Cline will have to take seriously the possibility that Brown's faction is so at odds with the Freedom Caucus that it would ally with the Democrats, in some kind of weird fusion based on victimhood and dependency.  This may seem improbable, but such alliances are actually occurring at the local level, such as my own Shenandoah County, and could be extended.

So watch the 6th District of Virginia.  Its politics provide an interesting window into the state of the nation.

James V DeLong lives in the Shenandoah Valley.  He is a graduate of the Harvard Law School and a combatant on the side of the Freedom Caucus.

Image: Mark Warner via Flickr.