Virginia GOP Settles On Drive-In Convention After Trumpian Wing Sows Months Of Chaos

“It feels like it’s either the Three Stooges or the Keystone Cops here all around.”
RICHMOND, VA - JULY 04: State senator Amanda Chase carries a gun during an open carry protest on July 4, 2020 in Richmond, Virginia. Chase is currently running for the Governors office of Virginia. People attended an... RICHMOND, VA - JULY 04: State senator Amanda Chase carries a gun during an open carry protest on July 4, 2020 in Richmond, Virginia. Chase is currently running for the Governors office of Virginia. People attended an event in Virginia tagged Stand with Virginia, Support the 2nd amendment. (Photo by Eze Amos/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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February 24, 2021 5:14 p.m.

The Virginia GOP has finally, after months of infighting and refusal to cooperate from its Trumpian wing, settled on how it will nominate its candidates for statewide races: a drive-up “convention.” 

At Liberty University — if it’ll have them.

The delegates will stay in their cars, possibly listening to speeches over their car radios, and pick their candidates on a ranked-vote ballot, per the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

If the plan seems odd, it’s an unhappy resolution to the bitter feuding that led to this point. 

For months, the Virginia GOP found itself mired in gridlock, with a minority faction refusing to acknowledge that it had lost key planning votes, keeping the majority from moving forward. Sound familiar? 

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Since December, the party has voted four times to use a convention instead of a primary to choose its candidates. It’s a story of dysfunction from a party that has failed to win a statewide election since 2009.

In an unusual twist, the decision to go with a convention was aimed at reducing the power of the extremist candidates; usually, moderates prefer a primary to involve a wider swath of voters and boost more centrist figures. The fringe candidate in this situation is Republican state Senator Amanda Chase, a candidate for governor

More moderate committee members of the party were afraid that Chase would pull off a win with a small plurality of votes in a crowded primary, and be an easy target for Democrats in the general election. A party convention would require the nominee to win at least 50 percent of the vote. Going the convention route would also likely box out Glenn Youngkin, a wealthy businessman and political newcomer, who has threatened to blanket the state in political ads in the case of a primary.

Chase fancies herself “Trump in heels” and has gained national attention recently for the plexiglas cube Senate staffers erected for her to sit in due to her refusal to wear a mask. She says she has a medical condition that prevents her from wearing one. She was also recently censured by her state Senate colleagues for calling the January 6 insurrectionists “patriots.”

Chase, a vocal COVID-19 denier, has been lobbying hard for a primary, even filing a lawsuit to keep the state party from holding a convention based on the argument that…doing so would be dangerous amid the pandemic. 

Even after the party decided on a convention in December, State Central Committee members aligned with Chase used procedural rules to force a vote on the issue three more times, failing again and again to change minds. Rather than swallow the loss and move on from a clearly unpalatable option, that contingent of the party then used its numbers to grind to a halt the next step in the process: figuring out how to hold a convention in a commonwealth where gatherings of more than 10 people are currently banned. 

The party tried to change its rules to hold a convention semi-remotely, with delegates gathered in small groups across dozens of locations. That plan would require a greenlight from three-fourths of the committee members. But those still holding out for a primary, constituting almost half of the committee, said no. 

The party, then, had no primary and no convention. It was stuck, facing down a February 23 deadline by which the Department of Elections had to know if the party was conducting a primary. The party chairman warned that if members couldn’t get it together, it would fall to them to handpick the nominees. 

Cue contentious, marathon Zoom meetings broadcast on Facebook — sometimes seven, eight hours long — where no compromise was met, votes failed and tempers flared. During one, Virginia GOP Chairman Richard Anderson complained that the party’s headquarters is a “literal ghetto,” earning him a rebuke from the Democrats. During the same call, a committee member huffed that “it feels like it’s either the Three Stooges or the Keystone Cops here all around.” A female committee member was called a “witch” by an unmuted member while she spoke. Concerns about Republican voters’ distrust in state-run elections, and fear of an “antifa attack” at a convention, emerged.

Then came Tuesday. The day of truth. The committee actually missed the 5 p.m. deadline, automatically taking the doomed primary off the table (Democrats will choose their nominees by primary in June).

As the three hour-plus Zoom meeting began, members first killed the suggestion of an unassembled convention, broken into satellite locations across the state. They then killed the option of a party canvass, a method that closely resembles a primary, but which is run by the party and not the commonwealth. 

The second method, the canvass, was actually already written into the party plan so only needed simple majority approval, not the two-thirds the other methods required. A group of Republican former Virginia governors wrote a letter imploring the committee members to get behind a canvass. 

“We strongly urge you to put aside differences tonight and select a canvass, which has been successfully used many times previously by our party,” they wrote. “It would not require an amendment to the party plan, pre-registration or mass meetings, nor does it limit the number of Republicans who can participate in the nominating process.”

But still — no dice. 

The committee finally settled on the drive-in at Liberty, the former Falwell kingdom. The school, though, said in a statement Wednesday that it had not yet agreed to any particular plan or contract and that the cash-strapped party (it had $1,514 in the bank at the end of December) will have to pay “full rental cost.” 

Chase, for one, is still displeased. On Twitter, she claimed that the car gathering is illegal under state restrictions right now, warning that committee members are going to end up picking the nominees. 

“I would like the VA GOP State Central Committee to answer a question,” she tweeted Tuesday night after doing a hit on Newsmax. “1,962,430 voters voted for President Trump in Virginia. How are you going to accommodate these people who will want to cast a vote for our statewide candidates?”

This post has been updated.

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