Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers remarks while campaigning at Regent University Oct. 22, 2016 in Virginia Beach, Va. 
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty

Virginia Republicans rally behind Trump acolyte in Senate race

In Virginia’s gubernatorial race last year, Republican officials weren’t especially concerned about their primary contest. Ed Gillespie was expected to cruise to an easy victory, easily dispatching Corey Stewart, who served as the Trump campaign’s chairman in Virginia, and who was running an explicitly pro-Confederate platform.

Indeed, as Slate’s Jamelle Bouie noted at the time, Stewart “was running as a voice for Trumpism, railing against ‘illegal immigration,’ condemning ‘transgender bathrooms,’ slamming Gillespie as a ‘cuckservative,’ and centering his campaign on an aggressive defense of the state’s Confederate monuments and memorials.”

Stewart lost that primary, but he came very close, which only emboldened him further. The right-wing Republican soon after launched a Senate bid, and this primary turned out better for the Trump acolyte.

In Virginia, Corey Stewart, a Trump-supporting, immigration hardliner who campaigned on keeping up Confederate monuments, narrowly won the GOP U.S. Senate primary, and will go up against incumbent Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine this fall.

With 100 percent of Virginia precincts in, Stewart, the chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, had 44.9 percent of the vote, compared with state Delegate Nick Freitas, a former Green Beret who’d received backing from a key conservative group, with 43.1 percent.

Stewart’s victory could be a gift for Kaine in blue-leaning Virginia, where a Republican hasn’t won a statewide race since 2009. Stewart campaigned as an ardent supporter of the Second Amendment and even revived false “birther” allegations that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S.

To get a flavor of what Stewart brings to the table, note that when he launched his campaign, he declared that “the era of the kinder, gentler Republican is over.”

His candidacy, Stewart added, would be “vicious.”

For most Republican officials, yesterday’s results weren’t good news. Kaine is a formidable incumbent, making this an uphill climb for the GOP anyway, but the broader issue is having the Republican brand associated with a pro-Confederate extremist.

Indeed, it was of great interest to see the National Republican Senatorial Committee – which exists solely to help GOP candidates win Senate races – celebrate the results of yesterday’s primary contests in several states by way of press releases and social media, while saying nothing about the contest in Virginia.

And yet, there was the president, declaring via Twitter, “Congratulations to Corey Stewart for his great victory for Senator from Virginia. Now he runs against a total stiff, Tim Kaine, who is weak on crime and borders, and wants to raise your taxes through the roof. Don’t underestimate Corey, a major chance of winning!”

Stewart may be too radical for much of the Republican Party’s establishment, but he’s just right for Donald Trump.

Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) lost his primary yesterday because he was insufficiently pro-Trump, while Corey Stewart won his primary yesterday because he was Virginia’s version of Trump.

Today’s GOP is getting Trumpier and Trumpier all the time.