by Bob Barr
Virginia was home to eight presidents, including some of America’s immortals — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. Its state constitution, penned by Jefferson, was a prelude to the U.S. Constitution. It was in Richmond in March 1775 that Patrick Henry courageously declared, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” However, in the wake of last week’s elections in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the banner of individual liberty which the state birthed so many years ago, is now dead; replaced by a collectivist mindset distressingly similar to that which now prevails in California.
The state’s final transition to Liberalism was preceded by a series of political events that, in more normal times, would have doomed the state’s Democratic establishment to deep minority status: the governor in black face, sexual assault allegations against the Lt. Governor, an abortion bill rivaling that of the most liberal of states, and a growing trend of anti-gun rhetoric from state legislators. Notwithstanding these and other episodes, last week Virginia went solid blue.
While some pundits point to demographic shifts in the suburbs – an influx of Hispanic voters, increased numbers of college educated federal employees, and overall population growth leading to greater population density – this tells only half the story at most. The Republican Party has been losing ground for decades. Moreover, it is far from clear that those factors automatically mean more Democrat voters. The real question voters everywhere should be asking – not just in Virginia – is, has the Republican Party given up on what made the GOP attractive to these types of voters in the past?
Rather than leading with the principles and ideas that once defined Republican politics and ideals (and those of our Founding Fathers) – low taxes, limited government, individual rights – local “Republican” officials now more often than not respond to voters’s desires to enhance their “safety” and “quality of life,” by increasing spending and expanding government services. Predictably, it then becomes only a matter of time before Democrats swoop in and steal voters with promises of more of whatever goodies the GOP was offering.
In other words, Republicans simply forgot how to be Republicans and, with that, any ideas for how they might lead. According to former Republican Party of Virginia Executive Director Shaun Kenney, it is precisely this lack of big ideas that weakened his party to the point it is today. Not since former Governor Jim Gilmore’s plan to eliminate the “car tax” in 1998 have Virginia Republican candidates really offered a clear reason to consider voting for them.
It is a lesson Republicans across the country, especially in Congress, should heed with absolute resolve heading into the 2020 elections.
Republicans are never going to beat Democrats at the “government handout” game. As we have already seen with the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, there truly is no limit as to what they will promise voters, including free healthcare and free education for everyone, including those in the country illegally.
What voters are looking to the GOP for are meaningful alternatives; whether it is congressional Republicans countering “Medicare for All” with free market fixes to the healthcare system, or locally, making the case to new, Hispanic voters that the GOP is the party of traditional family values and small business entrepreneurs. Some may argue these are hardly “big ideas,” but compared to what many in the GOP now offer voters, they are huge.
Equally important, Republicans need the spine to defend their ideas, principles and values from attack. Unlike President Trump, far too many Republicans sit back and allow Democrats to pillory the foundational tenets of conservatism; offering little more than boilerplate, partisan rhetoric or snarky sarcasm in response.
We can look to Corey Stewart’s embarrassing loss to Tim Kaine in the 2018 Virginia U.S. Senate race as proof that this strategy is a recipe for failure. The rise of Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez provides clear evidence that the vacuum of intellectual leadership left by Republicans, now is being filled with a growing flock of socialist ninnies in Virginia and elsewhere; a phenomenon no longer limited to America’s west coast.
What happened in Virginia last week is a bellwether for trends we already are seeing in other traditional Republican strongholds like Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina. More blind partisanship, immature snark, and atrophic leadership from GOP leaders will only ensure more states like Virginia are surrendered to the Left.