When Corey Stewart beat Nick Freitas in Virginia’s Republican Senate primary on Tuesday, he got a congratulatory tweet from President Trump, who said, “Don’t underestimate Corey, a major chance of winning!”
Among the people who retweeted Trump’s accolades: Jason Kessler, a self-described “pro-white” activist who organized last year’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, during which a young woman was murdered by an alt-right rallygoer — and a friend and associate of Stewart’s.
Stewart’s victory in Virginia may throw the GOP’s chances in House races further down the ballot under the bus. Cook Political Report editor Dave Wasserman tweeted that because of Stewart’s win, the GOP is unlikely to hold seats in four Virginia districts. (Reportedly, the National Republican Senatorial Committee may not endorse Stewart.)
Stewart’s win over Freitas means a Republican candidate with a birther past and connections to white nationalists and a virulent anti-Semite is the face of the Republican Party in Virginia this year. Stewart isn’t new to the scene — he lost two previous statewide elections in 2013 and 2017. But this year, he won, even in one of northern Virginia’s wealthiest suburbs. And he did so by pledging his undying loyalty to the one person who matters in the 2018 Republican Party, even after getting fired by his presidential campaign: Donald Trump.
Who is Corey Stewart, a “proud Southerner” who’s actually from Minnesota?
Corey Stewart has draped himself in the mantle of Trumpism, saying in 2016, “I was Trump before Trump was Trump.” And that has some truth to it: In 2012 during his run for lieutenant governor, he bragged about Prince William County’s “crackdown” on undocumented immigrants via a 2007 law that required police to check the immigration status of anyone detained or arrested if there was “probable cause” that the person might not be a citizen. (Stewart served as chair of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors.)
Of course, there was a brief moment back in 2015 in which Stewart, like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and the rest of the GOP following President Obama’s reelection, decided that reaching out to minorities was critical to winning races. But then came Trump.
And for Stewart, with Trump has come an all-out embrace of neo-Confederate viewpoints and the alt-right. In 2017, he attended the “Old South Ball” in Danville, Virginia, and gave a speech saying Virginia was the state of “Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson,” adding that the Confederate flag “is our heritage, it’s what makes us Virginia, and if you take that away, we lose our identity.”
At another campaign event in 2017 hosted by an avowed secessionist who attended the disastrous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Stewart again defended the Confederacy, saying, “Virginians, we think for ourselves... And if the established order is wrong, we rebel. We did that in the Revolution, we did it in the Civil War, and we’re doing it today. We’re doing it today because they’re trying to rob us of everything that we hold dear: our history, our heritage, our culture.”
He’s said (and tweeted) that the removal of Confederate statues was an action akin to what the terror group ISIS would do and that he would “defund” any Virginia city that took down any Confederate memorial.
Politicians who are for destroying the statues, monuments and other artifacts of history are just like ISIS. pic.twitter.com/qoGYGe1l5S— Corey Stewart (@CoreyStewartVA) April 25, 2017
Nothing is worse than a Yankee telling a Southerner that his monuments don't matter.— Corey Stewart (@CoreyStewartVA) April 25, 2017
Defending Confederate memorials was still a part of his 2018 Senate platform.
Despite continually referring to himself as a “proud Southerner,” Stewart was born and raised in Duluth, Minnesota, and went to St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, before transferring to Georgetown University in 1988.
But that hasn’t stopped him from leaping head first into the racist morass of the far right.
Unite the Right went wrong, unless you’re Corey Stewart
Months before the Unite the Right rally in August 2017, Stewart was gallivanting with Jason Kessler, appearing with him at an event supporting the ousting of a black Charlottesville City Council member who called for the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a city park (Stewart has described Lee as “brave and honorable”). At the event, Stewart praised the attendees — members of a group called “Unity & Security for America” — for their stand against “real racism,” while Kessler argued that the statue of Lee held “ethnic significance to Southern white people.” (Kessler also thinks the term “Nazi” should be viewed by members of the alt-right as a “term of endearment.”)
And Kessler continued to vocally support Stewart, tweeting that “if you live in Virginia you have to vote for Corey Stewart” on the eve of Virginia’s Republican gubernatorial primary in June 2017. (Stewart lost.)
After the violence and racism of the Unite the Right rally, in which a young woman, Heather Heyer, was murdered, Stewart was alone among Virginia Republicans in refusing to criticize the alt-right rally attendees and instead called out his fellow Republicans for being “weak”:
All the weak Republicans, they couldn’t apologize fast enough. They played right into the hands of the left wing. Those [Nazi] people have nothing to do with the Republican Party. There was no reason to apologize.
For his part, Kessler reacted to Heyer’s death by tweeting, “Heather Heyer was a fat, disgusting Communist. Communists have killed 94 million. Looks like it was payback time.” He later blamed the tweet on “stress.”
Kessler is currently in the midst of a lawsuit aimed at arguing that Unite the Right was the result of a conspiracy to commit violence.
Palling around with Paul Nehlen
And then there’s Stewart’s relationship with anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, too-racist-for-Twitter Wisconsin Republican House candidate Paul Nehlen, whom Stewart described in 2017 as a “hero” for challenging House Speaker Paul Ryan; he also paid Nehlen’s campaign for use of his email list during his 2018 campaign, and Stewart’s spokesperson was a consultant for Nehlen.
Video of Stewart’s endorsement of Nehlen (which took place before Nehlen made an “enemies list” of verified Twitter users in which he guessed at each’s religious affiliation, and before Nehlen was banned from Twitter for posting racist images of Meghan Markle) was uncovered by the conservative website the Daily Wire, run by conservative commentator Ben Shapiro. Nehlen’s campaign responded by calling Shapiro “anti-White” and a “Bolshevik neo-Con.”
Stewart’s initial response to the video? In a statement to the Weekly Standard, Stewart’s campaign said, “Sadly it’s unsurprising to see the establishment Republicans continue to play the race card against President Trump’s most vocal supporters.”
And though Stewart eventually attempted to distance himself from Nehlen, a website run by Stewart supporters (and former consultants of the Roy Moore campaign) and connected to the Stewart campaign has continued to smear both Shapiro and Daily Wire reporter Kassy Dillon, alleging that Dillon was trying to force a College Republicans group to write a letter to Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. to ask him to disavow Stewart. (In an email, Dillon told me that this was patently untrue, and that she had tried to reach out to the website for a correction.)
I spoke with Shapiro about Stewart’s win. “It’s idiotic, of course,” he told me, “and demonstrative of that fact that affect matters more to primary voters than actual possibility of victory. ... Sacrificing seats for the sake of ‘showing the establishment, raaaaargh!’ is not only politically stupid, it ends with the nomination of utterly unpalatable candidates who toxify the party as a whole.”
Or, as Curtis Houck, the managing editor of the conservative site Newsbusters, put it last night:
Corey Stewart will now join the likes of Todd Akin, Roy Moore, Richard Mourdock, Christine O'Donnell, & many others by being an albatross around the neck of GOPers in Virginia & beyond. Republicans were never going to beat Kaine, but it could always get worse, & it has #VASen— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) June 13, 2018