GOP leaders in Prince William County did what national Republicans still have not done with Donald Trump.
On Tuesday, local Republican elected officials in Prince William County, Virginia, demonstrated that it is possible to do what national Republicans largely refuse to do: speak out against hate speech coming from someone in their own party.
It was an all-too-familiar story: an angry Republican with a Twitter account spent much of the past few years spouting racist, xenophobic, sexist, Islamophobic hate and conspiracy theories. Then, he decided to run for office and won his party's nomination in a surprising upset.
When Donald Trump did this in 2016, virtually the entire Republican Party fell in line behind him. John Gray, the Republican nominee in next month's election for chair of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, hoped the same would happen for him.
The chairman position is open because the incumbent — unsuccessful 2018 U.S. Senate GOP nominee Corey Stewart, another xenophobic Trump Republican with white nationalist ties — is not seeking a fifth term.
Gray, who is running as a "conservative" "professional" who is "fighting for Prince William taxpayers," came under fire a few weeks ago when his Democratic opponent Ann Wheeler noticed he had paid a Twitter-scrubbing service $30 to delete years worth of wildly offensive tweets.
The progressive blog Blue Virginia posted several of those now-deleted tweets. One mocked the abused ex-wife of the Orlando Pulse shooter with the words: "Well, what did you expect? Being Islamic you knew he had the right to beat you. And Obama will defend that right!"
Another since-deleted tweet mocked those protesting and rioting in Charlotte, North Carolina, in September 2016 after a fatal police shooting of an African American man. "I also read that of all the stores looted and burned, not a single pair of work boots was stolen," he wrote.
At the time, Prince William County Republican Committee Chair Bill Card issued a mildly condemning Gray's tweets but standing by the nominee.
"Prince William County is a diverse community where there is no place for bigotry or intolerance. John Gray has apologized for the inappropriate comments that he made on Twitter in the past and he has expressed sincere remorse. John will be meeting with members of the community to make amends," he wrote.
Card added that the party rejected "divisive sentiments and identity politics."
"We fully subscribe to the Virginia Republican Creed that states in part: . . . all individuals are entitled to equal rights, justice, and opportunities and should assume their responsibilities as citizens in a free society," he said. "In that vein, I expect Prince William Democrats to give John Gray the same grace they have given Governor Northam for his blackface scandal. To not extend the same courtesy would be hypocritical."
At a meeting of the Prince Williiam County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, however, Republican members were far less sympathetic.
Following an emotional speech by a sexual assault survivor, who condemned Gray for suggesting in a now-deleted tweet that rape victims need to shut up "so the rest of us can get on with our lives," the Republican supervisors praised her and took aim at Gray.
Supervisor Marty Nohe (R) remarked that "being willing to stand up to people who fail to show the leadership that they claim that they have — it’s a gift that she has to be able to do that. And we need more people who are willing to stand up to that."
Supervisor Maureen Caddigan (R) was even more blunt.
"Shame on him," she said. "I feel he’s lost the election. Terrible to break the heart of these parents and the little girl that’s going to live with this the rest of her life. So shame on you, John Gray! I hope you listen to this today. That is a disgrace and you are supposed to be a Christian."
Supervisor Pete Candland (R) was similarly critical.
"Anyone who gets online and tweets or posts Facebook messages that are degrading or dehumanizing or trying to paint their political opponents or supporters of political opponents in a poor light should really not do that," he said.
Other Republican supervisors have also criticized Gray and his tweets.
Trump, meanwhile, has repeatedly made comparably offensive comments about Muslim people, immigrants, women, people of color, and a wide array of others.
Despite this, the most recent video on the Prince William County Republican Committee's Facebook page is from a June pro-Trump event. The video shows attendees cheering wildly as footage of first lady Melania Trump introducing her husband plays on a screen in front of them.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.