Okay, we’ll begin the substance of this post with a clear topic sentence.
The notion that Prince William BOCS Chair Corey Stewart is too toxic for President-elect Donald J. Trump is, well . . . absurd.
Yesterday the Washington Post printed a scathing editorial on Chairman Stewart. Following earlier reporting, some of which we covered in our post of November 11, the editorial chronicles Stewart’s more recent inflammatory statements. It also comments on Prince William County’s circa 2007 illegal immigration debate, for which it chastises Stewart, noting that he incited a “racially charged tempest” and put the county through “a poisonous culture war” in service of “headline hunting.” These are but a few excerpts from an editorial that asserts Stewart “proved too radioactive even for the [Trump] campaign.”
The problem with this assessment is, well . . . it’s not exactly right . . . or at the very least it’s incomplete in meaningful ways. Stewart’s abrupt and unceremonious dismissal from the Trump campaign had nothing to do with Stewart’s positions or comments, which pale in comparison to those of Trump himself. The dismissal instead had everything to do with the rise to power within the Trump campaign of the alt-right and its establishment pilot fish.
To be fair to the Washington Post, which is consistently the source of outstanding reporting and well-reasoned editorials, the idea that Stewart is too toxic for Trump was an ancillary talking point in their editorial, not an endorsement that this was all that was going on. Instead, their fundamental claim was that Stewart would be a poor choice for Virginia governor, an office he is seeking in 2017. As a critique of Stewart’s policies and comments the editorial may be accurate. But to the extent it suggests even obliquely that these policies and comments were the rationale for the Trump campaign firing Stewart, the editorial acquiesces to a false narrative being peddled by a specific, self-serving, and particularly noxious element within Trump circles. In other words, there is far more to all this than meets the eye.
Now, we here at the Muckraker are not going to defend Chairman Stewart’s actions during the Prince William County illegal immigration debate, which we think the Washington Post editorial accurately characterizes. (It is worth noting that there are plenty of local Republicans who rode this same issue to electoral success while letting Stewart do their dirty work). Nor are we going to defend Stewart’s conduct during the Trump campaign or his more recent inflammatory remarks. His conflating of a police shooting with Virginia Lt. Governor Ralph Northam and Hillary Clinton, for example, crossed a line that should not be crossed. But the idea that Stewart was too toxic for Trump is simply ludicrous.
First, by comparison . . . well, there is no comparison. Whatever you may think of Chairman Stewart, the accumulation of outrageous comments or actions on his part over the course of his career pales in comparison to what President-elect Trump has said and done over just the past 18 months alone. Trump repeatedly made comments at his rallies and on social media that also “crossed a line that should not be crossed” and that were greeted with Nuremberg-like chants and adoration by some of his followers. And we would be surprised if any serious person actually believes, for example, that Trump initially waffled when confronted about David Duke because, as Trump claimed at the time, he didn’t know anything about Duke. The record shows that Trump had years earlier spoken out against Duke. No, Trump waffled because he didn’t want to risk alienating Duke’s followers while running for President. Only after he later huddled with advisers did he realize he needed to disavow the Klansman.
Trump’s comments at rallies, comments to the media, comments on Twitter, and vast ignorance of basic facts, horrified the vast majority of true conservative thinkers, who over decades have worked to purge from conservative circles the John Birchers and racist fringe that tried to make the Republican Party their home after Democrats endorsed the Civil Rights Movement. Whatever Trump supporters may say, these conservative thinkers were not simply protecting some “establishment” straw man, but were fighting for what they saw as fundamental conservative principles that Trump had jettisoned to gain power via appeals to people’s most base and fundamentally un-American instincts.
Trump has in fact saturated our capacity for outrage. His conduct has been so regularly egregious that it deadens the senses, like insulin receptors overwhelmed by too much sugar. For anyone who supported and voted for Trump to consider Stewart too toxic exhibits breathtaking cognitive dissonance. Nothing Stewart has said compares with the litany of Trump’s outrages. It’s worth noting that while Stewart early and publicly stated that he disagreed with Trump with regard to Muslims, the Trump campaign repeatedly doubled-down on its anti-Muslim rhetoric and then consciously brought the beating heart of the racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, misogynist alt-right into the highest levels of the campaign in the form of Stephen K. Bannon of Breitbart News.
And that, in fact, is where Stewart ran into trouble within the Trump campaign.
Now don’t get us wrong. We’re not saying that Stewart turned his back on the Trump campaign in any way because it brought the alt-right movement in from the cold fringe. That would be giving Stewart too much credit. What we are saying is that what doomed Stewart with the Trump campaign was not the toxicity of Stewart’s comments or positions, which are but a weak shadow of Trump’s (Stewart’s boast about being “Trump before Trump” notwithstanding). What doomed him was the rise to power of overlapping alt-right and establishment elements in the senior levels of the Trump campaign.
This sort of overlap has been growing in the Republican Party since Barak Obama took office in 2009. We saw it first with the Tea Party. A self-described anti-establishment revolt within the Republican Party, it didn’t even exist during the Bush administration when so many of the policies that it claimed were harming the country reached their peak. Instead, it emerged just as the nation swore in its first black president. Suddenly, Republican stalwarts fell all over themselves to claim “I am the Tea Party” as they approached state elections in 2009 and Congressional elections in 2010. And who soon controlled the movement behind the scenes? Legions of far right establishment figures.
The fundamentally racist “birther” movement has a similar pedigree. At first a fringe theory that gained traction with the racist elements of the Tea Party movement, it became a staple of many Republican candidates and elected officials who courted and surrounded themselves with its adherents for political gain (including some current elected officials in Prince William County). Soon, many an establishment Republican was doing their own hemming and hawing on national television when asked whether or not they believed President Obama was born in the U.S. or whether or not he was a Muslim.
The Muckraker has already written extensively about the rise of the alt-right within the Trump campaign and the troubling ascension of its avatar, Stephen K. Bannon. We don’t need to rehash that here. Suffice it to say, however, that as with the Tea Party and the birther movements, as the alt-right rose within the Trump campaign, so too did a number of opportunistic right-wing establishment pilot fish who saw opportunities to advance themselves by swimming aside the alt-righters dominating Trumpworld.
Chief among these were Trump Campaign Manager, Kellyanne Conway and Deputy Campaign Manager, David Bossie. For either to claim they are not part of the Republican establishment is to deny history. But each also had an important relationship that linked them favorably to the alt-right and the Trump campaign.
In one of our earlier posts we made a passing reference to a major financier of the self-described platform for the alt-right. This financier is the billionaire Robert Mercer. In addition to being a major investor in Stephen K. Bannon’s Breitbart News, Mercer also funded super PACs that he chose Kellyanne Conway and Davis Bossie to run. In Bossie’s case, the Mercer family foundation has even funded some of Bossie’s projects.
It was Mercer who effectively brought the alt-right into the highest echelons of the Trump campaign. As a result of Mercer’s influence, on effectively the same day in August, Trump brought two Mercer adherents in at the top level of the campaign: Breitbart’s Stephen K. Bannon as Campaign CEO and Kellyanne Conway as Campaign Manager. A couple of weeks later another Mercer adherent, David Bossie, had been installed as Deputy Campaign Manager.
That’s when things really became dicey for Chairman Stewart.
Keep in mind that Stewart had been named co-chair of Trump’s Virginia operation back in December of 2015, after a personal meeting with the Donald. Now with less than three months left in the race, the entire leadership of the campaign had been turned over to the leader of the self-proclaimed platform for the alt-right and two right-wing establishment pilot fish – all three of whom were backed by the financially powerful Mercer family.
Now while few people could rise to the level of despicability of Steve Bannon, David Bossie is nevertheless a particularly unsavory character in his own right. Some of you may know that it was Bossie’s attack documentary about Hillary Clinton that led to the 5-4 Citizens United case, which eviscerated modern campaign finance law. Bossie, in fact, has produced more than 20 of such so-called documentaries, many of which are political hatchet-jobs. Before becoming involved in such productions, Bossie also worked for the founder of Citizens United, where in the early 90s he was tasked with digging up dirt on Bill Clinton. This led him at one time to burst into the hospital room of a stroke patient to ambush the patient’s spouse and question them about their daughter’s earlier suicide, which Bossie was trying to link to Clinton. Later Bossie became a Hill staffer and in 1996 was an investigator for a congressman looking into the Clintons’ fundraising practices. Bossie’s conduct in that role was so egregious that the Republicans fired him after 18 months, with then-Speaker Newt Gingrich saying that Bossie had become “an embarrassment to the Republicans.” George H.W. Bush referred to Bossie’s work as “filthy campaign tactics.” As one reporter has characterized him, Bossie is “in many ways, an embodiment of the toxic, obsessive, vendetta-driven political spirit that animates Trumpworld.”
Why is this relevant to Chairman Stewart? Because David Bossie, who came on as the Deputy Campaign Manager of the Trump Campaign in September, is an Ed Gillespie man.
That’s right. Bossie is a backer of Ed Gillespie, former chair of the Republican National Committee, the former Republican nominee for the Senate against Mark Warner, and Corey Stewart’s principal Republican rival for governor of Virginia.
That something fishy was at work within the Trump campaign with regard to Stewart was evident from the comments of Trump’s “Virginia advisor,” who we cited in our November 11 post. Remember it:
“To be honest, Mr. Trump doesn’t even know who Corey Stewart is. He went rogue. He never followed orders. He never did what the campaign asked him to do. He was so preoccupied with running for governor that we had to fire him. . . . Thus guy was a cancer to the organization in Virginia and we’ve been paying for it ever since.”
Trump didn’t even know who Stewart was. Does that sound right? Trump meets personally with Stewart in Virginia in December of 2015, appoints him co-chair of the Virginia campaign, and Stewart then goes out vociferously and consistently on the offensive for Trump. Yet now Trump doesn’t even know who Stewart is. In June Stewart applauds Trump’s outrageous comments regarding Judge Curiel, while other Republicans denounce those comments. Yet now Trump doesn’t even know who Stewart is. In July, Stewart reprehensibly tries to tie the words and policies of Clinton and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam to the Dallas police shootings and receives a rebuke from the Trump campaign. Yet now Trump doesn’t even know who Stewart is. In October Stewart participates in a pro-Trump protest outside the RNC and is very publicly fired by the Trump campaign. Yet now Trump doesn’t even know who Stewart is.
Admittedly it is not inconceivable that President-elect Donald J. Trump is so clueless or so impetuous that within the whirlwind of a campaign he actually forgets people he has appointed to major positions. Nor is it inconceivable that he is clueless about the backgrounds of people he appoints to major positions. Nor is it inconceivable that he is flattered and manipulated by alt-right avatars like Stephen K. Bannon and their establishment pilot fish Kellyanne Conway and David Bossie.
We think it most likely that all three of these things are true, and that the last of them was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Stewart in the Trump campaign. It was, in short, David Bossie, who stuck the shiv in Stewart. Seeing Virginia going blue and needing a scapegoat, and seeing Stewart use his role in the Trump campaign to get a leg up on his friend Gillespie in the governor’s race, Bossie, one of the pilot fish of the alt-right, used the situation to humiliate Stewart, both then and after the election was over.
This says a good deal. After Trump won the Republican nomination, elected Republicans in Virginia took one of four stances. Some enthusiastically embraced Trump and went all out for him. Some very publicly refused to support Trump, either out of principle or out of calculation. Some, mostly moderates, simply indicated they would not support Trump and did not do so. A fourth group, which we call the “cowardly cohort,” remained largely silent, claiming they would vote for Trump but not campaign or work for him – that is until about two weeks before the election and FBI Director Comey’s bombshell announcement. With polls tightening and it appearing that Trump had a chance at winning, the cowardly cohort suddenly emerged to talk about how much they now liked Trump. The last of these are among those celebrating Trump’s electoral college victory most loudly.
Stewart was in the first group, ahead of almost every other Republican officeholder in Virginia in terms of both timing and effort. Yet, once the alt-right and its establishment pilot fish rose to the upper echelon of the Trump campaign, Stewart was doomed. With Gillespie’s advocate Bossie in charge, Stewart’s year-long loyalty to Trump meant nothing.
Now it’s another question entirely as to whether or not this is karma and Stewart ultimately deserved this treatment. Consequently, it’s not unfair for Stewart’s detractors to enjoy all this. But let’s get real. Facts are facts. For all his faults, his outrageous comments, and his sometimes terrible policies, Stewart is more intelligent than Trump, more honest than Trump, and more transparent than Trump. What he is not, is more toxic than Trump.