Two years ago, Corey Stewart was too extreme for the Trump campaign. This morning, he got Trump’s endorsement to run for Senate.
Stewart won the Republican nomination for Senate in Virginia on Tuesday. A county board member, Stewart almost won the Republican nomination for Virginia governor last year on a campaign of defending Confederate statues. Since then, he’s risen on the back of the alt-right, attending events with an architect of the violent Charlottesville rally and giving money to an anti-Semitic candidate in Wisconsin.
“Congratulations to Corey Stewart for his great victory for Senator from Virginia,” Trump tweeted Wednesday. “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!”
Kaine’s spokesperson called Stewart a “cruder imitation of Donald Trump who stokes white supremacy and brags about being ‘ruthless and vicious.’”
While the president got behind him, Sen. Cory Gardner, chair of the National Senate Republican Committee, did not. “We have a big map, right now we are focused on Florida, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana,” Gardner told CNN’s Manu Raju. “I don’t see Virginia in it.”
In 2016, Stewart was a local official in Prince William County and Virginia co-chairman of Trump’s campaign. After the Access Hollywood tape came out, he defended Trump’s remarks about sexually assaulting women, saying Trump “acted like a frat boy, as a lot of guys do.” He went to take part in a protest outside Republican National Committee headquarters, making references to “establishment pukes,” and was kicked off the campaign shortly after.
As chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, Stewart pushed Trumpian positions including a proposal to allow county police to check the immigration status of anyone they arrested.
Almost a year ago to the day, Stewart shocked political observers by nearly winning the GOP gubernatorial primary in Virginia against Ed Gillespie, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee. Stewart once even called Gillespie a “cuckservative.” (Gillespie was trounced by Democrat Ralph Northam last November.)
Stewart campaigned on the preservation of Confederate monuments in the state after a push across the country to tear down the monuments. Stewart defended the Confederate flag as “not about racism” during a speech at an “Old South Ball” in April 2017, surrounded by Confederate flags and people dressed in Antebellum South cosplay.
Stewart, originally from Minnesota, also sought to capitalize on a plan to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee from a local park in Charlottesville.
“Nothing is worse than a Yankee telling a Southerner that his monuments don’t matter,” he tweeted.
Stewart also touted the entirely baseless claim that President Obama wasn’t born in America.
As Gillespie disappointed some moderate Republicans by turning towards cultural issues in his gubernatorial campaign—including a mailer about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem—Stewart told The Daily Beast that those decisions would be the reason why he won.
“The Republican party is changing,” Stewart told The Daily Beast. “It’s becoming more populist. “There are going to be some dinosaurs out there who refuse to change and eventually they’re going to go extinct.”
Since losing, Stewart has made multiple press appearances with Jason Kessler, one of the lead organizers of Unite the Right, a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last August. The pair attended a proto-Unite the Right rally together in February 2017, when they rallied against the removal of the Lee statue in Charlottesville .
Stewart also spoke alongside Kessler at a February 2017 event for the group “Unity & Security for America,” a group Kessler founded for “defending Western Civilization including its history, culture and peoples while utterly dismantling Cultural Marxism.” Cultural Marxism is a favorite conspiracy on the far-right, which holds that liberals (Jews) are trying to destroy Western (white) society through popular culture.
After Unite the Right, where a white supremacist allegedly killed an anti-racist protester with his car, Stewart condemned his fellow Republicans for condemning Nazis.
“All the weak Republicans, they couldn’t apologize fast enough,” Stewart told The Washington Post after the murder at the Kessler-organized rally. “They played right into the hands of the left wing. Those [Nazi] people have nothing to do with the Republican Party. There was no reason to apologize.”He blamed “half the violence” on counter-protesters.
Stewart also has ties to Paul Nehlen, a Republican running for Rep. Paul Ryan’s House seat on an anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim platform. A former Breitbart contributor, Nehlen lost the alt-right outlet’s backing after he was revealed to have made anti-semitic comments on former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke’s podcast. Nehlen was banned from Twitter after a racist tweet about Meghan Markle. On Gab, a social-media platform beloved by the alt-right, Nehlen posted photoshops of Jews’ heads on pikes, before getting banned for revealing the name of a formerly anonymous alt-right character.
Despite Nehlen’s feuds with other members of the far-right, he found a welcome with Stewart, who paid him a $759 "fundraising commission" in May 2017, CNN first reported. Earlier that year, Stewart was also filmed praising Nehlen as one of his “personal heroes” and citing Nehlen’s campaigns as an inspiration.
Stewart disavowed Nehlen in a statement to the Washington Post last week, saying he distanced himself from Nehlen “when he started saying all that crazy stuff.”
On Twitter on Wednesday, Stewart thanked his voters and Trump for his endorsement. Then he returned to form, quote-tweeting a conservative account making fun of a Democratic candidate in Colorado.
“These people are clowns,” Stewart wrote.