Republican Senate candidate Corey Stewart will be a problem for all Republicans in 2018. But the fact that Leslie Cockburn isn’t a burden to Democrats shows media bias is alive and well in Virginia.
Most of the commentary about recent state primary races affecting the midterm elections in November has been largely a matter of partisan spin. Both Republicans and Democrats have sought to interpret the results in far-flung races from California to South Carolina as signs that their candidates are performing better than expected or producing matchups that will be problematic for their opponents.
But there’s no denying that the results of the Virginia Senate primary were very bad news for the GOP. Stewart’s victory gave him the Republican nomination for the Senate seat currently held by Democrat Tim Kaine, who will head toward the fall as a prohibitive favorite for re-election. It’s likely Kaine would have had a huge edge over Stewart’s main primary opponent, Nick Freitas, a little-known state legislator, in a state that is trending blue in statewide and national elections. But Stewart, the chair of the Board of Supervisors of Prince William County, is a particular problem for Republicans.
Stewart Has Been Linked With Unsavories
Long known as a virulent opponent of illegal immigration, Stewart was accused by his primary opponent of ties to far-right extremists. Last year while making an unsuccessful run for governor of Virginia, Stewart met with, praised, and gave financial support to Paul Nehlen, a Wisconsin congressional candidate who later showed himself to be an outspoken anti-Semite. He also met with and was endorsed by Jason Kessler, who was later the organizer of the Charlottesville rally made infamous by a neo-Nazi torchlight march followed by the death of a counter-demonstrator.
Stewart has since distanced himself from both men yet is closely associated with the cause of preserving Confederate monuments, the issue that led to the Charlottesville march. Stewart’s comments about the rally also echo President Trump’s notorious attempt to depict the left-wing counter-demonstrators in Charlottesville as morally equivalent to the neo-Nazis and Klan members on the other side.
The candidate is a product of a Virginia party, like the rest of the GOP nationally, where loyalty to President Trump is the most important quality. But in a state that has transitioned from reliably red to blue in the last decade as a result of the growth of the Washington and Richmond suburbs, having Stewart at the top of the ticket will likely be a liability in swing districts. With Democrats and their media cheering sections harping on his extremist connections, Republicans fear that Stewart will not merely flop in the general election but also take down vulnerable Virginia House Republicans like Barbara Comstock.
Stewart Could Be 2018’s Todd Akin
Their worries should extend beyond Virginia. Stewart shows every sign of being the 2018 version of Todd Akin. The Missouri Republican’s astonishingly stupid comment about abortion and “legitimate rape” allowed Claire McCaskill to retain a Senate seat she seemed certain to lose that year. The gaffe also became something of a meme that Democrats used to assail other Republican candidates. Those who didn’t stay on their guard wound up making their own mistakes on the subject, like Richard Mourdock in Indiana (who made a statement that could be construed to sound as if he thought God intended rape victims to become pregnant). That gaffe made Joe Donnelly’s upset win possible in another seat that Republicans thought they couldn’t lose.
That means Stewart could be a millstone around the necks of every Republican in a competitive seat around the country, hurting candidates who not only won’t endorse the Virginian but also never heard of him before this. That won’t be fair. But given the media’s ability to nationalize a local outlier, it is almost a certainty. Republicans will have no one to blame but themselves if their inability to pick a more viable Senate candidate in Virginia haunts them in a year where control of the House and perhaps even the Senate may hang on a few close races.
If that’s the way it plays out, the injustice will not be limited to making every other Republican in the country responsible for Stewart. The Democrats have their own liability running for office in Virginia, but it’s not likely that she will get the same kind of exposure that Stewart will get from an unfriendly media.
Now Meet the Anti-Semitic Candidate
The Democratic nominee for the Fifth Congressional District that encompasses Charlottesville happens to be Leslie Cockburn. Cockburn claims to be nothing more than just another liberal feminist critic of Trump, looking to leverage the #MeToo moment and win a seat that leans red.
But Cockburn should be just as much of a problem for Democrats as Stewart is for Republicans. With her husband Andrew, Cockburn authored the 1991 book “Dangerous Liaisons: The Inside Story of the U.S.-Israeli Covert Relationship.” It was a compendium of conspiracy theories and smears that sought to depict Israel as manipulating U.S. foreign policy.
The Cockburns weren’t content to feed the notion that Jews were the tail wagging the American dog to the detriment of U.S. interests. Instead, they sought to blame Israel for a host of international problems, including South American drug cartels, Central American massacres, and apartheid in South Africa.
As no less a critic of Israel than The New York Times noted in its review of the book at the time, the Cockburns’ book was dedicated to “Israel bashing for its own sake” and its message was that Israelis “are a menace” who are responsible for “everything that ails us.” In short, it was an anti-Semitic screed in the grand, dishonorable tradition of such efforts to slander the Jewish people.
The fact that its authors had mainstream connections and were backed by a major publisher made it no less despicable. But Cockburn has now resurfaced seeking to present herself to the public as a skeptical journalist whose book (which she does not disavow) is a non-issue being put forward by conservative opponents.
Fortunately for Cockburn, liberals, including Jews who ought to be up in arms about her candidacy, are circling the wagons around their party’s nominee. As The New York Times reported last month, she’s getting an assist from some liberal Jews who, despite the evidence, are backing her up against charges of anti-Semitism.
Indeed, no less than Daniel Alexander, the rabbi emeritus of Charlottesville’s only synagogue, hosted a meeting for her. After it, he declared, “To criticize Israel is not an expression of anti-Semitism.” The rabbi is right about that, but “Dangerous Liaisons” was not mere criticism. It was demonization and delegitimization. Why are Jewish Democrats covering for Cockburn?
Racism Is Less Important Than Winning?
In an era of hyper-partisanship, liberal Jews are behaving like everyone else in prioritizing their party ties. For some, everything, including the safety of Israel and even concerns about anti-Semitism, are a lower priority than the “resistance” to the Trump administration.
Nor is Cockburn the only problematic figure on the Left to get a pass from some Jews. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) is a virulent critic of Israel with a shady past as a supporter of Louis Farrakhan, the anti-Semitic leader of the Nation of Islam. Yet many Jewish liberals have chosen to support him, which enabled him to rise to deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Similarly, the leaders of the Women’s Movement, who orchestrated mass protests against President Trump, have also gotten passes from many Jewish supporters despite their connections to Farrakhan and anti-Israeli stands. Cockburn’s rise is just the latest indication of how the anti-Israel wing of the Democratic Party is gaining traction.
That wouldn’t be possible if the national media were as interested in exposing anti-Semitism as it is highlighting Stewart’s unsavory associations and comments. Although Cockburn’s extremism and anti-Semitism is a matter of record, she won’t get the same kind of attention that Stewart will, because her liberal allies will do their best to either cover for her or simply ignore the issue. With the incumbent in that district retiring, she not only won’t be a burden to other Democrats, she may have an outside chance to win in November.
Republicans can complain all they want about this, but that’s often what happens when primary voters choose a Trump-style populist rather than a mainstream candidate approved by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. As with Roy Moore last year in Alabama, the president’s endorsement of Stewart won’t save him. Nor, thanks to the disinterest of the media, will he or other Republicans escape being tarred as this year’s Todd Akin.