Smooth operators: Virginia Republicans turn on the charm

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Republican State Senator Steve Martin was the first of two Virginia GOPers to make a very public gaffe on Facebook in recent weeks. File photo. Republican State Senator Steve Martin was the first of two Virginia GOPers to make a very public gaffe on Facebook in recent weeks. File photo.

It’s an article of faith among top Republican strategists—both nationally and in Virginia—that the GOP desperately needs to improve its image (and vote totals) among women and people of color if it ever hopes to become a truly dominant political party again. Unfortunately, despite a slew of “inclusivity initiatives” and “minority outreach programs,” Republican efforts to woo women, blacks, and Latinos have failed repeatedly due to one simple factor: the propensity of certain Republicans to act like jackasses.

Not all Republicans, mind you. But a sizeable enough chunk that rarely a day goes by without some elected elephant somewhere saying something offensive, derogatory, or mean-spirited about women and/or minorities, and thus reinforcing the general perception that the Republican Party is filled with misanthropic troglodytes.

Unfortunately (although fortunately for us) it often seems that a higher-than-normal percentage of these charmers hail from our beautiful Commonwealth, which is why the phrase “transvaginal ultrasound” is forever linked to the Old Dominion in the popular imagination.

Well, if the Republican Party of Virginia was hoping to make it through the winter without another major embarrassment, tough luck: It looks like it’s time to reset the “This many days since a sexist remark” sign at party headquarters to zero. In fact, Virginia Republicans delivered a bit of a misogyny twofer over the past few weeks.

The first incident occurred, appropriately enough, a few days after Valentine’s Day, when State Senator Steve Martin took to Facebook to vent his spleen about a card he received from The Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition. His lengthy anti-abortion rant was like a Pu Pu platter of offensive comments, calling the Coalition “really sick people,” claiming that they wanted to “kill unhealthy children,” and declaring that “once a child does exist in your womb, I’m not going to assume a right to kill it just because the child’s host (some refer to them as mothers) doesn’t want it.”

Following the inevitable public outcry (which included a tongue-in-cheek Tweet from comedian Steve Martin clarifying that he and the senator were, in fact, two different people), Senator Martin tried to mitigate the damage by editing the phrase “child’s host” to read “bearer of the child,” but it was a textbook case of too little, too late.

Luckily for the smooth-talkin’ senator, fellow Republican (and state party treasurer) Bob FitzSimmonds was apparently jealous of all the attention Martin was getting, and decided to grab some of those unflattering headlines for himself. Replying to a Facebook post (of course!) that touted the congressional candidacy of Delegate Barbara Comstock (who is running to replace retiring Rep. Frank Wolf in the U.S. House of Representatives), FitzSimmonds wrote “I have nothing against Barbara Comstock but, I hate sexist twat.”

FitzSimmonds later insisted that he meant to write “twaddle” (an excuse that actually makes sense, given the almost nonsensical quality of the original comment), but his scandal-weary Republican colleagues weren’t mollified, and soon both House Speaker William Howell and RPV chairman Pat Mullins were calling for FitzSimmonds to resign as treasurer.

Just be careful, guys—if you go around demanding the resignation of every politician who writes or says something offensive, you might eventually shrink Virginia’s Republican caucus to the size of a varsity football team.

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

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