Politics & Policy

Not Their Chairman

The Virginia GOP sets up its next train wreck.

Was Virginia’s Republican Party State Central Committee right to remove party chairman Jeff Frederick from office on Saturday? Every Republican in Virginia will have his own answer to that question.

Perhaps Frederick, a conservative member of the state House of Delegates, was unsuitable for the job — difficult to deal with in person and incautious about what he said in public. His embarrassing comparison of President Obama to Osama bin Laden hardly helped his cause (even if other party chairmen have said worse). And based on the 57–18 vote to remove him, it is obvious that after ten months on the job, Frederick had at least failed to cultivate constructive relationships with key party members.

But as for the ten actual charges that his enemies leveled against him — the purported reasons for his ouster — they represent such a thin case that one can only suspect there were other motives behind Frederick’s demise. Only two, if true, appear to justify anything like Saturday’s action — they pertain to alleged “mismanagement” of party finances.

And even these two most damning charges amount to a rounding error in the state-party budget: eight months’ worth of office rent at $300 each, and about $580 that Frederick’s Internet company held while it was maintaining the state party’s website for free over a three-month period. Frederick says he held the money only to cover expenses, and that he saved the party thousands by doing this work while waiting for a new contractor to take over.

If Jeff Frederick is a crook, he is a nickel-and-dime crook. But why is the Virginia GOP tearing itself apart over less than $3,000 that may not have been mishandled at all?

Party First Vice Chairman Mike Thomas took over as acting party chairman after leading the charge to unseat Frederick. When asked by National Review Online this week whether there had been any “unethical” or “criminal” activity on Frederick’s part, he would not answer. “That I don’t think I should comment on,” he said. “There were a lot of concerns about Jeff. I don’t think it is proper to talk about them publicly.”

This is, of course, leaves a damaging accusation hanging in public. So much discretion now, weeks after Frederick’s detractors leaked the ten charges against him to the Associated Press.

Some have cast this, misleadingly, as an ideological battle for the soul of the state party. Some party moderates like this narrative, as do some liberal journalists hoping to prove that Frederick’s conservatism was his problem. And Frederick, thinking of a possible comeback, wants to use the same narrative to rally conservatives against his detractors.

But many conservatives wanted Frederick gone, and some moderates believed he had been doing a good job.

Thomas, who led the charge to oust Frederick, is a former executive director of the Virginia Society for Human Life and a home-schooler, known for siding often with conservatives in intra-party disputes. Thomas told me he wants to prove this was not an ideological fight by installing a conservative chairman in Frederick’s place. “It will not only be a philosophical conservative but an identifiably philosophical conservative,” said Thomas, “and one who is able to put our philosophy into effect.”

And former Virginia congressman Tom Davis, known as a moderate, praised Frederick when I contacted him. “He certainly reached out to me and to others who are considered more moderate,” Davis told me, adding that he had no part in the move to oust Frederick. “He was not an excluder. . . . He represents the most Democratic district of any in the state held by a Republican. He’s a heck of a candidate.”

Davis explained Frederick’s ouster thus: “The state party has been a pretty closed shop, and Jeff was an outsider.”

This is a plausible theory. Virginia’s GOP chairmen are typically selected in mid-term by the 79-member State Central Committee, and their choice is usually ratified at the party convention. But last May, Frederick challenged the committee’s uninspired choice, former lieutenant governor John Hager, at the state convention. Frederick was on his way to receiving 60 percent of the vote when Hager, a moderate, conceded.

It was that very same committee, of course, that removed Frederick Saturday. Frederick almost survived even that vote — to oust a chairman, three-quarters of those who vote must support removal — losing only because one proxy voter from the Roanoke area was disqualified.

The bottom line is that establishment Republicans wanted Frederick out, and they convinced Bob McDonnell, the party’s gubernatorial nominee, that they had found a painless way to eliminate a problem early in a critical election year. McDonnell ultimately decided to weigh in against Frederick, which would prove crucial to his ouster.

The State Central Committee will meet again May 2 to choose a new chairman, who will have to win at the convention less than a month later. And whoever the new chairman is, he might have a familiar and formidable opponent at the convention: Jeff Frederick.

“I am considering running for chairman again, and I believe that if I did I would be successful,” Frederick told me. More important, and alarming, he blames McDonnell for his downfall, and he’s not afraid to say so. “He wanted to, as one person described it to me, play Pontius Pilate and wash his hands,” Frederick told me.

Frederick’s chairmanship may not have been the biggest problem for Virginia’s GOP. And his removal is no guarantee of salvation.

– David Freddoso is a National Review Online staff reporter and author of The Case Against Barack Obama.

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