Is Ed Gillespie a good idea for Chairman of The Republican Party of Virginia?
Nobody seems to want to say this, though it’s hinted around in posts and threads across the blogosphere. There is nothing wrong, per say, with Ed Gillespie as a Republican loyalist. As National Chairmen, he helped lead the GOP to one of its most impressive total victories in a long time. He is smart, connected, telegenic, and articulate. He has the ability to call directly to the White House.
He is also George Allen’s boy.
I respect George Allen as a conservative and for all the work he did as governor, senator, and as the leading Republican in Virginia. He is a true conservative who fought the good fight. But the fact of the matter is George Allen lost an election he should have one, and in doing so he literally cost the Republican Party control of the Senate. I worked hard for Allen, gave up my time to march around Fairfax in cold weather knocking on doors and hanging door signs. But I’m not really happy with him. He lost this election. He said things he knew better then to say, he had a poor strategy, and was slow to realize the advantages Webb had. It’s more than “maccaca.” He apologized for it, and it should have ended there. Instead, following Dick Wadhams’s strategy, Allen proceeded to a) make an un-winnable war on the Washington Post, and b) try to “out-maccaca” Jim Webb, trying to find an embarrassing phrase or sound byte to combat his own gaffe. By following this strategy, it is now clear Allen alienated many voters who had supported him previously on his sunny conservative vision for the state and the country. In a Democratic atmosphere, Allen’s strategy was a terrible mistake and cost the party dearly.
Ed Gillespie as party chairman simply keeps Allen in power in the state when it is now clear that the Virginia GOP needs to go in a different direction. The GOP is still playing by the 1990s playbook that won them office. I read that playbook as this:
--Emphasis tax cuts as the be-all-end-all to economic woes George Allen pushed tax cuts in 1993 and Jim Gilmore famously crusaded against the car tax. Mark Warner changed this conversation when he raised taxes and framed it as fiscal responsibility, and became MORE popular. The GA Republicans have not helped by making war on each other since 2003.
--Drive conservative voters out by using social issues.
Allen was passionately anti-death penalty, while Gilmore himself ran as a tough-on-crime, pro-life conservative. Again, Warner and Tim Kaine have both embraced this approach, or at least moderated it. Moderating views on these social issues have helped Democrats define themselves as trustworthy on social issues while claiming the mantle of fiscal responsibility. When Jerry Kilgore ran those death penalty ads, it blew up in his face.
--Tie state Democratic candidates too the national part.
Allen and Gilmore did this masterfully, especially Allen against Mary Sue Terry and Charles Robb. Again, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have made the Democrats a true alternative statewide while Virginia continues to vote Republican in presidential and congressional elections.
--Republicans have stubbornly run campaigns exactly the same in every area of the state.
We have not learned how to emphasis certain issues over others in certain areas of the state. Both Mark Warner and Tim Kaine did this wonderfully. Jim Webb, as well, hid his past conservatism in parts of NoVa, emphasizing his anti-war stance while proclaiming his pro-gun beliefs downstate. It drives me crazy, but it works and we would do well to take that lesson.
What is scary for Republicans is Jim Webb’s victory. The Warner-Kaine model of swamping Northern Virginia and Richmond, and winning more votes than thought of downstate has gone national. I thought Allen could pull this off because as a senator, you have a voice in national policy and Virginians have overwhelmingly gone Republican. But Webb won, over a man who dominated statewide politics and had no business losing.
Why do I go on like this? Because I’m afraid Ed Gillespie will continue the 1990s line of thinking that just does not work anymore. Northern Virginia can be salvaged by conservative candidates who emphasis economics and a consensus style of conservatism. I am also worried that his ascension is merely a way for George Allen to stay relevant in Virginia Republican politics. I am worried that Gillespie won’t reach out to the grassroots on the most local level. Will he be more concerned about George Allen’s interests, or how many times he’ll be on Fox News? Will he be willing to come to a group like the Fairfax City Republican Committee and help us out? Will he reach out to the Internet like the Democrats have so successfully done, or simply ignore them like Kate Griffin did (and too a lesser extent, George Allen’s campaign)? Connections are nice in Washington, but what about Richmond, Roanoke, Norfolk, or Virginia Beach? Will he roll his sleeves up and help recruit candidates all over the state and ensure they are funded? Will he help craft party policy and a winnable strategy? Or is he merely here to ensure a Republican wins in the 2008 presidential election? His presumed counterpart, Dick Cranwell, is the consummate Virginia political insider who knows the commonwealth upside down and inside out.
I’m afraid the state Republican Party just cannot take chances on these questions. We’ve lost too many elections to have so much mystery surrounding our state party machinery. We don’t need a superstar to outshine everyone else at the RPV, we need a nuts-and-bolts insider who can fire up the party, raise money, recruit candidates, and create a winning strategy. I’m not going to pretend to know who can do it. I’m not that much of an insider. And if Gillespie wins the chairmanship, I’ll support him and the party 100% because the values of the GOP drive me more than the people who run it. But we need to make a decision now. The Era of the 1990s is over. George Allen has been defeated, Mark Warner essentially repudiated Jim Gilmore, and the Democrats are in ascension. Ed Gillespie, I’m afraid, is too national and too close to Republicans in the state who are defeated and no longer relevant.