The first thing to understand about Corey Stewart, Virginia’s long-shot Republican Senate candidate and perhaps America’s purest political distillation of Donald Trump, is that he’s crazy. I found out when I sent a routine e-mail to his press office, in hopes of obtaining an event schedule. In the campaign version of dialing 411 and having the Verizon CEO pick up, an angry Stewart himself answered:
Rolling Stone has been the most misleading left-leaning publication we’ve worked with. Is there any good reason for us to cooperate with you?
Stewart for U.S. Senate, Inc.
Politicians often get tough with the press, but even Donald Trump — whose former spokeswoman Hope Hicks was always cordial — never led off with “fuck you.”
As a Mini-Me version of the president, Stewart is running a key symbolic race against former Hillary Clinton running mate and establishment centerfold Tim Kaine. Stewart is perhaps also an answer to a question hanging over American politics: Will there be such a thing as Trumpism after Trump?
A jowly, anus-faced character in a crew cut who looks like a margarine-fattened version of Sean Spicer, Stewart is something like the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the GOP — the vanguard of a clearly unwanted internal uprising.
The movement led by the likes of Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders has a specific, consistent ideology. But the analogous movement of Trump-aligned pols unseating traditional Republicans, led by Stewart, seems more about sheer blunt rudeness than ideas.
Ian Sams, campaign spokesman for Kaine, tells a story about his candidate’s first debate with the Trump acolyte.
In the July 21st debate, Stewart — whose big campaign issues have been preserving Confederate monuments and accusing a New York Times reporter of breaking into the house of one of his aides — denounced Kaine for voting against Trump’s $716 billion military budget.
“[Kaine] has the nerve to say that he supports our military,” Stewart hissed. “But yet he even voted against giving more money to our men and women who are in the military.”
Stewart here pulled off a wrongness double-axel that would have been tough even for his idol Trump. Not only did Kaine actually vote for the bill in question, but Stewart himself had encouraged Trump to veto it.
Stewart lobbed this and other loony accusations at Kaine during the debate, many of them as factually absurd as his claim that he’s a “proud Southerner” (he grew up in Duluth, Minnesota). All the same, in the post-debate gaggle, Sams found himself surrounded by reporters demanding comment, leading to a flash of insight.
“In this kind of politics,” Sams said, “there’s a fundamental imbalance that is shifted toward the lying person.”
If anyone were to try to articulate a political theory of Donald Trump, this might be it: lying-ism. It’s not so much about policy — Stewart runs to both the left and right of traditional Republicans, depending on the issue — as it is about using aggression as an electoral strategy.
You turn everything into a fight, renouncing decorum as a trick of the establishment (Stewart actually promised to run a “vicious, ruthless” race). Then, court voters’ secret resentments by relentlessly ripping your opponent as the Fucker Responsible for Everything, using accusations that are true, not true, doesn’t matter, just make sure you never stop.
Stewart seems to be the first from-scratch attempt to re-create this uniquely vile electoral brand. Trump has had allies before, but they’ve mostly been either craven opportunists like Chris Christie or scandal-tinged converts from traditional Republicanism, like Jeff Sessions and Jim Jordan.
Stewart is different, a true strategic apostle. “Corey is the most analogous Republican to Donald Trump running,” says Sams.
Like Trump, Stewart has a penchant for saying things that are provocatively stupid (the Civil War was not “fought over the issue of slavery”) and for obliterating even the possibility of compromise through pointless rudeness (Stewart once called Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie a “cuckservative”).
Stewart’s race-baiting politics have caused him to be frozen out by the Republican establishment. It’s not just his humping of Robert E. Lee and the Confederate flag (“It’s what makes us Virginia”), or the fact that he’s got a staffer who in a perfect Trumpian echo described predominantly black cities as “shitholes.”
Stewart has also been photographed in smiley-pol pose with Jason Kessler, the “pro-white” blogger who helped organize the infamous “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville in 2017. Kessler described slain protester Heather Heyer as a “fat disgusting communist.” Though Stewart has repudiated such characters, he hasn’t been convincing.
But if Stewart is the less-campy incarnation of Trump, Kaine is the ultimate incarnation of insufferably dull centrism. This means he’s a politician vulnerable to be fooled by all the wrong metrics: party endorsements, press adulation, fundraising dollars, even love from pollsters (he’s up by as much as 18 points).
In the age of widespread discontent, Trumpism wears the absence of all these things as a badge of honor. Fortunately, Stewart is too dumb to hit Kaine on his worst votes, like his recent support of Trump’s Dodd-Frank rollbacks. And like Trump, Stewart’s not at all believable when he plays labor messiah, lamenting the damage measures such as NAFTA have done to cities like Danville, which he described as a dystopia of “boarded-up shops” befouled with suicide and opiate addiction.
Kaine is vulnerable there, and this is America, remember. Bullshit always has a chance.