By Shaun Kenney October 12, 2022
You don’t play this card unless you’re losing.
Guys like Denver aren’t terribly difficult to figure out: mission first, politics later. Or one of my more well-worn aphorisms, professionals work problems and amateurs work personalities.
I happen to know and like Denver Riggleman. I disagree with him on any number of matters. Come to think of it, I believe some crazy things too.
Not just as a Catholic, but as a rational soul, I firmly believe that every child has a right to their biological mother and father and that such rights are best protected in an institution we call marriage. Not just as a Catholic, but as a rational soul, I believe that every human being has the basic right to exist.
Yes — I do believe that that Washington Redskins will return and win a Super Bowl, but cannot bring myself to root for the Washington Commies.
The long and short of this is that I don’t need a God to believe in at least two of these three things.
Now there are good people who disagree on such matters. Some of them are in our coalition known as the Republican Party. Some of them are in what the British parliamentary system might term the loyal opposition. What has been strained over the last 25 years from Clinton to Biden — some might say all the way back to Nixon — is not just our ability to lose and concede an issue, but the totalizing aspect of our political ideologies.
Flake on just one item of Republican orthodoxy, and poof! you are a RINO (Republican in name only) or a WINO (winners in name only).
Be aware — the orthodoxy changes radically at times.
The shift from Ronald Reagan’s belief in globalization and free markets in the face of the Soviet Empire has come around to a Republican reversion towards a more insular and insulated economy.
Riggleman most likely never changed what he believed. Always a more libertarian leaning Republican, the rise of so-called “national conservatism” puts many former Reagan-era fusionists (think Milton Friedman) on the outside of the prevailing orthodoxy in both parties.
If Spanberger Phones a Friend in the Forest, Does Anyone Actually Care?
Of course, I don’t know Abigail Spanberger — my wife attended the University of Virginia with her in the late 1990s — but she is who she says she is. More liberal than progressive, she is nevertheless decidedly a personality of the left. But she has always been a personality of the left.
So at least she’s honest about what she believes.
Her Republican challenger Yesli Vega comes from the Corey Stewart wing of the Republican Party — with links to Ted Cruz and Glenn Youngkin and their coterie of political consultants and volunteers. Vega herself has a record of accomplishment both professionally and politically, making stands where warranted and carefully picking her battles in Prince William County.
In short, no conservative will ever have to wonder where Vega stands.
If you want to know just how close VA-07 is, simply look at the way Spanberger has conducted her campaign. The DCCC has thrown just about everything but the kitchen sink at Vega. That the race is still thisclose tells you that Spanberger’s team is on their back foot and reeling as the perilous state of the economy combines with Biden’s miscalculations both at home and abroad.
Outside looking in, Fredericksburg is about 2:1 Vega in the sign war. The old adage “signs don’t vote” is shorthand for “signs don’t make consultants money” — signs may not vote, but they are a damn fine indicator of people who do vote.
What they are also a damn fine indicator of is voter enthusiasm.
Spanberger’s team has done just about everything in their power to remind voters that Vega believes little babies have the basic right to exist. Not unironically, Spanberger’s effort to boost Democratic enthusiasm for piles of dead babies has also reminded Republicans that Vega is on the side of the angels.
Yet the campaign itself has focused not on divisive social issues, but on hardnosed kitchen table issues.
Try as they might, the DCCC cannot avoid the basic problem that the US economy is in the throes of a recession right now. Inflationary pressures made worse by Biden’s spending programs only reinforce the obvious — things are bad and things need to change.
Some numbers the Democrats can’t spin? Consider mortgage rates:
Your only good news is that the economy will grow a modest 2% GDP in 3Q 2022. Which sounds good only if you don’t take into account 10% inflation YTY.
Coupled with the new jobs report in September and the advent of the Christmas shopping season, the self-inflicted Biden recession looks as if it may be on the mend, if for no other reason than Trump left behind a stronger economy than the one he inherited.
All this goes to a wider point.
Campaigns can only do so much in national headwinds. Republicans hold the high ground. You can tack to the wind a bit, but if you’re on the wrong side of it? In borderland districts such as VA-02, VA-07 and VA-10 there really isn’t a whole heck of a lot you can do about it.
Other than lose gracefully, of course.
Endorsements Won’t Matter; Kitchen Table Politics Are The Entire Ballgame
To put a bit more pressure on the question of just how much trouble Spanberger is in, the campaign has done just about everything they can to ambush Vega, mostly in an effort to overcome the demographics of VA-07 — mostly suburban and center-right. Depress Republicans by painting a candidate as too divisive, amp up Democrats on questions that matter to them, and voter enthusiasm should be enough.
Divide et impera as the Romans used to say.
Thus far, Vega has seen the traps and is refusing to spring them. For instance, the ploy to hold a so-called debate at the University of Mary Washington loaded with center-left personalities and a hostile UMW student audience fell flat as Vega — and Republicans writ large — continue to bypass hostile institutions and choose to speak directly to constituents.
To make matters worse for the Democrats, the RCP Generic Ballot stands at a firm R+0.9 — certainly enough to spell doom for any hope from Pelosi to hold onto the House of Representatives.
With State Senator Ken Kiggans looking very good in VA-02 and Hung Cao showing surprising strength in VA-10, the question at this rate isn’t whether Spanberger is in a toss-up race in VA-07 but whether the DCCC should be throwing even more resources at a thinly-held but losing proposition.
As for the GOP’s chances in the US Senate, the RCP projections show Republicans picking up two seats — placing the upper chamber firmly in control of the GOP:
I am rather bullish on Nevada. Whether or not Herschel Walker can hold on to his lead in Georgia remains to be seen. Don’t let the recent October Surprise talk worry anyone too much. Walker’s erstwhile Democratic opposition — Rev. Raphael Warnock — isn’t precisely a moral paragon either.
Georgia was D+0.7 before the dirty tricks broke. Whether Georgians are wise enough to see a political assassination attempt for what it is remains to be seen.
Ohio and Pennsylvania should be very good for Republicans, as should North Carolina.
In short, November is shaping up to be your typical mid-term election.
One Word of Caution
For a former Republican congressman whose fundraising prowess was legendary for the time, to see a man like Denver Riggleman break ranks and endorse the opposition should give most people pause.
Virginia Republicans have a habit of shedding such names: David Ramadan, Woody Holton, Marshall Coleman all come to mind.
Of course, a campaign’s job isn’t to worry about the health of the Republican Party or the conservative movement. Rather, it is to win at any cost.
Yet as the Republican Party begins to shift ever so tendentiously away from Milton Friedman, pragmatism, and free markets and towards Steve Bannon, nationalism, and insularity means that — in an effort to reinvigorate conservatism with a nationalism that “fights” — we are at risk of ditching the classical liberalism that made the Reagan Revolution great.
Yet in the exchange, it does limit what great conservatives might accomplish when the grand coalition splinters to become more like the Democrats as they treat politics as an extension of total warfare, rather than turning November’s victories into January’s plan of action.
This isn’t to say that any of the aforementioned names are great conservatives. I doubt any of them would claim such a title. Yet it is difficult for me to understand how they share more in common with the political left than the political right.
Except, of course, if politics somehow manages to triumph over the mission. Except, of course, if personalities triumph over the problem. Which if you listen carefully to Tulsi Gabbard, this is her primary complaint about the political left.
For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, I suppose.
Shaun Kenney is the editor of The Republican Standard, former chairman of the Board of Supervisors for Fluvanna County, and a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia.