Charm offensive: Virginia’s Republicans pretend to play nice

ODD DOMINION

Virginia's Capitol Building in Richmond. File photo. Virginia’s Capitol Building in Richmond. File photo.

Watching Republican Congressional candidate (and current Fairfax/Loudoun county delegate) Barbara Comstock debate her Democratic opponent John Foust last week, we couldn’t help but think of her as a walking metaphor for today’s GOP. She was poised, mostly well-spoken, and projected the sort of comforting, inclusive image the party is desperate to showcase following a number of election cycles dominated by white male Republicans saying offensive things about women. (See Richard “Rape Pregnancies are a Gift from God” Mourdock for just one egregious example.)

At the same time, her actual answers consisted largely of boilerplate right-wing bromides, and her image as a softer, more welcoming kind of Republican was consistently belied by her actual voting record. This is, after all, a woman who supported the notorious 2012 bill mandating that abortion patients receive a forced vaginal ultrasound.

And in the end, despite Comstock’s best efforts, the only thing anyone will remember from this debate was when she compared immigrants to FedEx packages. (Using a convoluted metaphor for securing the U.S./Mexico border, she said “Fed-Ex can track packages coming in here all the time. We can track people who are coming into the country and we can do that right.”)

And this, basically, is the GOP’s problem in a nutshell. No matter how hard it tries to project a kindler, gentler image, Republican candidates’ hardline policies and frequent boneheaded statements consistently remind voters just how little respect they have for women, immigrants, and the poor.

Another perfect example was the recent General Assembly special session, ostensibly called to allow a “full and fair debate” on Governor Terry McAuliffe’s proposal to expand Medicaid to cover the 400,000-odd people who don’t qualify for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Now, the odds that this was simply going to be more political Kabuki theater—with Republicans fulminating against the evils of “Obamacare,” and powerless Democrats grandstanding loudly in return—were always extremely high. Still, there was a slim hope that a compromise plan championed by Delegate Tom Rust, a Republican, might actually gain some traction.

Those hopes, however, were quickly dashed, as his bill was overwhelmingly defeated after a brief discussion. In fact, the entire farcical session lasted only an hour, and accomplished nothing except to reinforce just how little Virginia’s Republican caucus cares for the Commonwealth’s underprivileged.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the newly empowered Republican majority in Virginia’s Senate was making vast and sweeping changes to the all-important committees that will decide what legislation will make it to a vote during the next regular session. As befits the victors, Republicans purged Democrats from a number of important posts, including seats on the Finance Committee, the Commerce and Labor Committee, and the Education and Health Committee, which oversees legislation related to both Medicaid and abortion.

All indications are that Virginia’s elephants will continue to play hardball for the foreseeable future, blocking as many of Governor McAuliffe’s progressive proposals as possible while simultaneously engaging in transparently phony “outreach” to women and minorities, and cynically promoting “non-traditional” Republican candidates like Comstock who, when you look even one millimeter below the surface, are just as conservative as they come.

Will it work? If the 2010 midterms are any guide, it’s a definite possibility. But as President George W. Bush once said: “Fool me once, shame on…shame on you. Fool me, um…can’t get fooled again!”

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

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