Just desserts: The ongoing loss of Virginia’s congressional clout

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File photo. File photo.

You know, there was a time—way back in those halcyon days that we political junkies like to call “the era of basically functional government”—when Virginia had one of the most effective and envied congressional delegations in the nation. Long a magnet for federal defense funds, the Old Dominion also boasted a raft of U.S. senators and representatives who, due to a combination of outsized personalities and hard-earned seniority, sat high up in the congressional food chain, commanding prime committee positions and, in the case of ex-congress critter Eric Cantor, even standing in line for the senior leadership role in the House of Representatives.

Well, we all know how that turned out (Cantor was unceremoniously ousted by primary opponent Dave Brat in 2014), but here’s an additional sobering fact: Since Cantor left congress, an additional five of Virginia’s 11 U.S. House seats have been refilled due to either retirement or primary defeat. Yes, this list contains both elephants and donkeys, but the Republican ranks have taken a much bigger hit, with the recent primary loss of Representative Randy Forbes to Virginia delegate (and ex-Navy Seal) Scott Taylor just the latest blow to their congressional clout. Believe it or not, the loss of Forbes’ position as chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee actually matters.

But here’s the thing: The felling of these old bulls is not happening in a vacuum. In truth, the GOP’s relentless pursuit of power by any and all means necessary (including extreme gerrymandering, widespread voter suppression at the state level and contemptible catering to the most intolerant and bigoted segments of the voting populace) have ended up backfiring on the party’s elder statesmen. Cantor’s maneuvering to make his right-leaning district even more conservative via redistricting arguably engendered his defeat, while Forbes decided to abandon his old district (the 4th) after Virginia’s Republican-drafted congressional map was found unconstitutional and redrawn by a panel of federal judges. Competing in an unfamiliar new district (the 2nd), Forbes was easily tagged as a carpetbagger and sent packing.

And all of this, it should be noted, has transpired before the completely unhinged candidacy of Republican standard-bearer Donald Trump has even reached full flower. The perfect encapsulation (and probable terminal point) of the modern GOP’s anger-driven politics, Trump has provided the ideal vehicle for all of the closet racists and unrepentant nationalists (whom the party of Lincoln has long courted) to rise up and take over.

So what comes next? Well that, of course, is the 10 billion dollar question. (Note: actual worth of question unable to be verified due to missing tax returns.) There is very little doubt that Trump, if he isn’t unceremoniously dumped by panicked Republican Convention delegates due to gross incompetence (a highly unlikely scenario), will lose handily to Hillary Clinton. But his wider impact on Republican officeholders sharing the ballot is harder to predict. Our own best guess falls between “catastrophe” and “complete annihilation”—but then again, there’s a long time between now and November.

One thing, however, remains certain: Whichever electoral tragedy befalls the commonwealth’s beleaguered pachyderms, they have only themselves to blame.

Odd Dominion is an unabashedly liberal, twice-monthly op-ed column covering Virginia politics.

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