Divide deepens in Virginia GOP as Democrats renew calls for Trump’s early ouster

Divide deepens in Virginia GOP as Democrats renew calls for Trump’s early ouster
After positioning themselves as the law-and-order party heading into an important gubernatorial election year, Virginia Republicans are now dealing with a political riot arising from their own party’s ranks.

During the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, former Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox recorded a video in front of the boarded-up state Capitol building, calling the sight a tragic failure of “Democratic leadership.”

“I should say maybe, a lack of leadership,” he said at the time, praising a massive armed demonstration by gun rights groups earlier in the year and going on to accuse Democrats of “hurting law enforcement” by pursuing criminal justice reforms.

After the U.S. Capitol building was attacked by supporters of President Donald Trump who battled with police Wednesday, Cox, a Republican now running for governor in what will be one of the first major elections of the post-Trump era, was less direct in placing blame at the top.

In a statement Wednesday, Cox called on Trump to tell his supporters to “leave the Capitol immediately.” He stopped short of faulting the president, who continues to falsely claim the election was stolen, for the mob that stormed the halls of Congress.

“Anyone who rightly spoke out against lawlessness and violence last summer cannot with integrity be silent now,” Cox said. “We all have a duty to speak up.”

After positioning themselves as the law-and-order party heading into an important gubernatorial election year, Virginia Republicans are now dealing with a political riot arising from their own party’s ranks, one that has Democrats again calling for Trump to be removed from office with just a few weeks left in his term.

Asked Thursday if Cox agrees with those on the left and right who feel Trump should be removed early, Cox campaign spokeswoman Kristen Bennett said Cox “believes the best thing for our country now would be for everyone to take a deep breath over the next two weeks and for President Trump to ensure a peaceful and orderly transfer of power to President-elect Biden.”

Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, Cox’s only current opponent for the GOP nomination, went to the rally in D.C. and has since published several social media posts defending attendees as justifiably angry, mostly peaceful “patriots,” as well as spreading baseless theories about the protest being hijacked by Antifa. Unlike Cox, she has not acknowledged President-elect Joe Biden as the rightful winner.

Democrats have responded with universal outrage after the invasion of the Capitol, which occurred as lawmakers met to certify Biden’s victory. More than 50 police officers were hurt during the melee, officials said, and one Trump supporter was fatally shot by police as she tried to force her way into a secure area of the building.

“Bluntly, this was a Donald Trump-inspired disaster,” U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., told reporters Thursday.

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.