For the last few months, Ed Gillespie, the Republican nominee for governor in Virginia, has been walking a tightrope. A former lobbyist and RNC Chair, Gillespie is perfectly representative of the Republican Party’s “establishment wing,” a swamp creature if there ever was one. But after narrowly escaping neo-Confederate Corey Stewart in the primary, Gillespie changed his approach, cutting race-baiting ads about MS-13 and defending the preservation of Confederate monuments—all while maintaining his more moderate pose in public appearances. The plan, it seemed, has been to use ads and other materials to win over Trump supporters and some suburban voters, while otherwise keeping a safe distance from the president, who is not popular in Virginia.
But Trump has routinely butted into the race. Today, he sent two tweets about Gillespie:
It’s unclear if Gillespie is interested in this kind of support—in the past, he hasn’t retweeted praise from Trump. But that’s almost beside the point. The first tweet shows how much the Virginia governor’s race has taken on Trumpian overtones, even as Gillespie has tried to keep his distance. Two of the dominant issues are purely Trumpian—Gillespie’s exaggerations about the threat of MS-13 to Virginia and his pledge to protect Virginia’s barely coded “heritage.” The tax cut that Gillespie initially campaigned on has entirely fallen by the wayside, replaced by cultural issues.
Much will be made about Gillespie’s response (or lack thereof) to these endorsements, but it’s really beside the point: The embrace of MS-13 and Confederate statues by Gillespie’s campaign shows the extent to which the specter of Donald Trump is haunting this race.