It's been just about a year since white nationalists took to the streets in Charlottesville for the “Unite the Right” rally that left three dead, including counterprotester Heather Heyer. And while Virginia's GOP Senate candidate Corey Stewart says he was “disgusted and horrified” by the images of mobs droning on about “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us,” he ultimately agrees with President Donald Trump's sentiment that there were “some very fine people on both sides.”
When asked about Trump's controversial remarks in the aftermath of the deadly white nationalist protest, Stewart — who's running to unseat Democratic Senator and one-time vice presidential hopeful Tim Kaine — said “he was speaking the truth [...] Both sides were to blame. There was violence by both Antifa and some extremist groups on the right.”
“I think that the president was right,” he added.
Stewart has spent his campaign seemingly in an endless loop of defending, denying, and denouncing a growing laundry list of white nationalist and anti-semitic ties. He's been tied to outspoken anti-Semite Paul Nehlen, who Stewart once called his “personal hero.” Reports have shown members of his campaign praising white nationalists and making racist comments. And before last year's tragic Charlottesville protest, Stewart appeared side-by-side with its organizer, Jason Kessler.
“I just wish that there was some pit that we could throw Jason Kessler into,” Stewart said when asked about his former associate — who is also organizing this weekend's “Unite the Right 2,” which Stewart called “a terrible idea.”
“It's a bunch of jealous Republicans who are upset that I defeated their guy in the primary.”
Just last week, however, The Daily Beast unearthed racist comments made by Stewart's campaign advisor, Rick Shaftan. And while he, again, is denouncing those statements, the Minnesota transplant says he will continue to work with Shaftan.
“I don't throw people away just because they say something I disagree with,” Stewart said when asked about Shaftan's incendiary comments, which include calling multiple majority-black cities “shitholes“ and also warning against opening businesses ”in black a neighborhood."
“I don't agree with those statements. But the thing is, for somebody who's been in politics for as long as he has, there's always going to be something,” Stewart said.
However, when IJR pressed and asked if there's a difference between saying something “stupid” and making a racist remark and whether or not he should continue to work with Shaftan on his campaign, Stewart grew agitated.
“I'm getting irritated here with you and this line of questioning, to be honest,” he said sternly.
Stewart argued that regardless of his adviser's racially-charged comments, “everyone is on social media sharing all kinds of stupid things,” adding that if he starts getting rid of people who have said something similar “[he’s] not going to be left with anybody.”
Tim Kaine’s team, when asked about Stewart continuing to work with Shaftan, simply said: “Birds of a feather flock together.”
These types of heated discussions aren't new for Stewart. During his failed 2017 race for governor, he strapped himself to the neo-Confederate movement in Virginia. And Since winning the state's GOP Senate primary back in June, after besting establishment Republican candidate Nick Freitas by 2 percentage points, Stewart has faced a wave of reports connecting him to white nationalists and neo-confederate views and associates.
It’s often hard to keep up with the stream of stories tying Stewart to white nationalists or exposing controversial statements. Over the course of IJR conducting this interview, two new stories on Stewart sprouted, linking his campaign to white nationalists and showing Stewart calling Michigan gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed an “Isis commie" in a now-deleted tweet.
But according to Stewart, the continued drip of negative press isn't because of anything he's done. Nor is it the Democrats' fault or even the left-wing media — it's “ass hurt” establishment Republican's who are trying to sink his campaign.
“It's a bunch of jealous Republicans who are upset that I defeated their guy in the primary,” Stewart said, adding that he believes the establishment wing of the GOP is “feeding this information to the left-wing media.”
“There's a whole slew of them. And a lot of them are connected to my prior primary opponent,” Stewart said, referring to Freitas' campaign. “I'm not going to blame him for that. It's just that he's got a lot of sourpusses out there who have an ax to grind because I beat their guy.”
“They are poor sports willing to take down the Republican nominee for the United States Senate all because their ass hurts,” the Republican nominee added.
“We want the president here.”
But while Stewart does admit he's behind (though he argues not as much as the recent numbers indicate), he claims he's just a Virginia Trump rally away from making things interesting in November.
The president was quick to endorse Stewart following his primary win back in June, a move the Senate candidate says was “absolutely pivotal” for his campaign.
Congratulations to Corey Stewart for his great victory for Senator from Virginia. Now he runs against a total stiff, Tim Kaine, who is weak on crime and borders, and wants to raise your taxes through the roof. Don’t underestimate Corey, a major chance of winning!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 13, 2018
“We want the president here,” Stewart says regarding a potential rally. He notes that he hasn't yet talked with the president directly but he remains in constant contact with the White House political team.
Trump's rallies have proven to be a shot in the arm for Republicans in tight races. And Stewart, who has adopted not only the president's political tactics but even his wardrobe, isn't shy about wanting some more of the #MAGA magic to rub off on him.
“I think that eventually he will be here and he will come down to Virginia,” Stewart said. “He loves this state and he knows — and he's said this — do not underestimate me.”