[Sun Gazette editorials represent the viewpoint of Sun Gazette Newspapers, which provides content to, but is otherwise unaffiliated with, InsideNoVa or Rappahannock Media LLC.]
Virginia Democrats were beside themselves with rage last week, blasting Republicans in the legislature for doing nothing during what ended up being a very brief special session that the governor had called on gun control.
Of course, they were crocodile tears – Republicans did exactly what Democrats hoped they would do: nothing. (It’s not really a surprise that the same e-mails from Democrats flooding into in-boxes not only castigated the GOP, but asked for money. Crass? Yes. But that was the point of this whole exercise.)
It takes no political Machiavelli to realize the special session was a set-up from the start, an effort by the Northam administration to move the spotlight away from its own ongoing image problems and ineptitude.
Much as when Harry Truman called the Republican Congress back into session in the summer of 1948 (also a baldly political ploy designed to rescue a flailing chief executive), the GOP had to decide how to respond. They could defiantly do nothing – a big “up yours” to the executive branch – or they could take modest efforts to enact legislation in order to prove they were more than the do-nothing body Truman and Northam have derided them as being.
Both then and now, the GOP opted for defiance.
In 1948, at least, it did cost them at the ballot box. (The hapless campaign of Tom Dewey, who was right up there with Hillary Clinton in thinking he had the presidency in the bag and expended little effort to connect with the electorate, didn’t help Republicans that year, either.)
With such razor-thin margins in both houses of the General Assembly, and with Republicans not having done a particularly good job at candidate recruitment this year, you’d think the party would want to be viewed as at least a tad conciliatory on any and all hot-button issues, if only to ensure they would not be tarred by Democrats and their many media allies as obstructionists.
But the GOP leadership in the legislature obviously made the political calculation they’ll do better by being confrontational and appeasing their most vehement gun-rights supporters.
It’s quite the political tight-rope act, and if they come crashing to the ground, it will be truly embarrassing for the Republicans. For it’s one thing to be outmaneuvered by a master of political tactics like Harry Truman; it’s another to fall to the likes of Gov. Northam, whose political skills have been shown to be shaky at best.