(GUEST POST FROM MATTHEW CHEATHAM)
If you type “George Allen” in a Google search, the next word Google suggests is “macaca”. Never mind the fact that he was the 67th Governor of Virginia, a United States Senator, a Congressman… This is 2014, and after over three decades in politics, his liabilities are instantly defined by toxicity. The great Google has spoken – the very next word people search for after typing his name into their search engine is a racial slur.
An emblem of the Bush years, sailing high in 2006 and ready to cruise to victory as the next senator to represent the Commonwealth of Virginia. That is, until that fateful August day where a campaign-tired Allen showed his true colors after being followed campaign stop to campaign stop by a Democratic Party operative and uttered a racial slur heard ‘round the world, which invariably sealed his senatorial demise just three months later with a soured public image.
During this time when Allen was on top of his game and was very seriously considered a top prospect for President of the United States by many conservatives, he supported an array of troublesome causes: the PATRIOT Act, No Child Left Behind, loosened requirements on cell phone tapping, raising the debt ceiling – four times!, Troubled Asset Relief Program, ethanol subsidies, and didn’t meet a single defense spending bill or foreign policy initiative that he didn’t think was too hawkish. Not to mention once opposing MLK Day. George Allen represents the Bush era – a neoconservative hodgepodge of bloated foreign policy, diminished civil liberties in the name of security, and a consistent swelling of government spending and debt. Yet, the mere familiarity of the Allen name in Virginia politics was enough for Republican voters to blissfully select Allen as their nominee to go up against Tim Kaine in 2012 after the embarrassing campaign against Webb. After losing by 4 points, there were no third party candidates to blame, no unpopular incumbent to tie a joint-noose to Allen… So – is Allen going to run perennially for yet another Senate campaign? Doubtful; but why would he with prospective Republican nominee Ed Gillespie in the race? Gillespie, like Allen, is just another arm of the Virginia political establishment.
The 2014 midterm elections are poised to be a slam dunk for Republicans, and many will be following the race against Mark Warner, one of the richest members of Congress. It will be an all-out brawl in a purple state whose senior senator enjoys a decent approval rating, and his perceived moderation on many issues makes him less polarizing than Tim Kaine. Yes, he’s been on the wrong side of plenty of votes, and will likely get hammered on Obamacare; but he will be a tough opponent to defeat regardless. A recent Christopher Newport University poll concluded that Warner enjoys a 50% to 30% against prospective Republican nominee Ed Gillespie, with 18% undecided (which is to be expected because Gillespie hasn’t even been nominated yet), and Warner’s 63% job approval rating makes him among the most popular politicians in the Commonwealth. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/new-va-poll-warner-has-wide-lead-over-gillespie-mcdonnell-remains-popular/2014/01/23/b8e55452-8442-11e3-8099-9181471f7aaf_story.html
Many Republicans have circulated the notion that Gillespie has the best shot at beating Warner: “Virginia political observer Kyle Kondik this month moved the Virginia race from “safe Democratic” to “likely Democratic” based on Mr. Gillespie’s strength as a candidate and ability to raise funds for a serious challenge.”
He’s a serious contender, they say. I’m not convinced that this is a good idea.
In 2006, Gillespie became the treasurer of George Allen’s Good Government for America PAC. “I am a big fan of Sen. Allen’s,” Gillespie, a fellow Virginian, said in a brief interview. “I’m proud that he’s my Senator.” http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/ed_gillespie_joins_george_allens_team_/ In his earlier years, Gillespie helped craft the 1994 “Contract with America” and was chair of the RNC from 2002-05, and was later the chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia until 2007, until President Bush asked Gillespie to be a counselor. While working in the Bush administration, he helped to package the Wall Street bailouts and the rampant deficit spending – two issues that were integral in forming the Tea Party. Gillespie was also the McDonnell for Governor campaign’s General Chairman in 2009, and co-created both American CrossRoads PAC and CrossRoads GPS in 2010 with Karl Rove – which last year declared its support of moderate Republicans in primary races, effectively putting Tea Party candidates in its crosshairs. http://www.politico.com//story/2013/11/gop-super-pacs-tea-party-99583.html Gillespie left the PAC to serve as a senior advisor to Mitt Romney in 2012. Given his past associations and endeavors, Gillespie is almost a caricature of “DC Insider” – the insult most easily thrown around on radio ads by one’s opponents. This is all beginning to resemble a grotesque zombie lurching out of a political graveyard, and none of it should be very appealing to Tea Partiers.
Now Gillespie, as a candidate for political office, has come out against the burst of federal spending under Bush (when he was Bush’s counselor). http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/jan/26/gop-senate-hopeful-in-virginia-ed-gillespie-takes-/?page=1 The reason being loyalty to those he’s advised – which, granted, may be important to a friendship, but when those policies threaten American prosperity and disagree with his conscience, shouldn’t he have spoken up? I’ve been willing to give first-time candidates the benefit of the doubt when words leave their lips, but my faith in Gillespie not continuing the policies of those he advised is quite non-existent. Warner may be guilty by association with Obama, but the same could be easily speculated against Gillespie – just that his voice in the ears of those he advised weren’t as clear as Warner’s votes on the Senate floor.
I get it – we want to retire Mark Warner. And given Gillespie’s history of big-dollar business and lobbying and fundraising, political consultation, and years of service in the Republican Party, he’s obviously a strong front runner. But what will be gained if he is elected? At the end of the day, how will the United States be better off – replacing a lackluster (D) with what convention wisdom suggests will be a lackluster (R)? Elections, no matter how counterintuitive it may seem, is not all about winning – it’s about messaging. Sometimes a good kick in the teeth can bring a sense of self-reflection to better your future endeavors, and Republicans seem to like getting kicked in the teeth again and again without wanting to adapt. Republicans are suffering an image problem and a policy problem; nominating people who created this fallout shouldn’t be the ones to rescue the sinking ship. Only 25% of Americans now identify with the Republican Party – the lowest in a quarter-century. http://www.gallup.com/poll/166763/record-high-americans-identify-independents.aspx
I believe that there’s a brighter future for the collective of libertarians, conservatives, Tea Partiers, and Constitutionalists if we allow it – and it involves a sensible foreign policy, protection of civil liberties, a positive tone, a legitimate outreach to disaffected demographics, honest reflection of policy, new blood, and effective argumentation. From what I can see, Ed Gillespie’s campaign will not ring true to any of these.
Beware of where you tread, Tea Party.