When Corey Stewart decided that the most important issue of his campaign was whether or not the City of Charlottesville was going to tear down a statue of Robert E. Lee, he was making a bet. He was betting that his opponents would support the move, or give him room to claim the small minority of Virginia voters that view “heritage” as a defining issue.
The problem, of course, is that gubernatorial frontrunner Ed Gillespie came out with a rational response — he thinks it’s a local issue but is personally opposed to rewriting history.
Stewart allies decided to just pretend that Gillespie supported removing the statue anyway, blasting out a fake headline through Facebook. The problem is, they were caught:
A conservative nonprofit with ties to Stewart campaign aides – the Conservative Response Network – subsequently posted and promoted a Facebook post linking to the article but with a fake headline: “Gillespie: I’m OK with Charlottesville Taking Down the General Lee Monument.”
In fact, Gillespie has said he doesn’t support moving the statue and thinks local officials who approved moving it should be voted out of office. But Gillespie said it’s an issue to be left at the local level.
Rick Shaftan is a Republican political operative who runs the Conservative Response Network’s Facebook page and altered the headline. He said Gillespie is trying to have it both ways and that the changed headline reflects that.
The spin from Shaftan and other Stewart allies is that Gillespie’s “local issue” approach is akin to endorsing a tear-down of the statue, which is absurd. God forbid a conservative support local governance. Still, the altered headline is the very definition of “fake news”, which has become the accusation du jour in conservative media.
Shaun Kenney at The Jeffersoniad goes one step further, saying that Stewart’s campaign is on the brink of collapse. Knowing Stewart’s ego, I imagine these rumors will stay rumors:
Either way, Stewart’s chances are effectively napalmed at this rate. The writing is on the wall… and it is only a matter of time or the hope of a narrative shift that saves Stewart’s bid at this rate.
If the rumors are indeed true that Stewart’s inner circle is starting to advise caution and perhaps a face-saving exit, this would be honest counsel indeed. Whether Stewart is willing to consider such honesty, or would rather hang on to an expensive and consultant driven bitter end (quite lucrative for the consultants, of course), is another matter altogether.
My prediction is that Stewart will ride this race out through the primary. In his mind, he’s building a political base for the future, even though groups like Middle Resolution (which endorsed him in 2013 for Lieutenant Governor) have since abandoned him.
It’s going to take more than a couple fake Facebook headlines for Stewart’s allies to build him into a plausible statewide candidate, and it’s a shame that we can expect them to up the ante on dishonesty in the coming weeks.