RICHMOND — Donald Trump’s presidential campaign fired Corey Stewart from his role as the campaign’s Virginia chairman Monday after Stewart took part in an unauthorized anti-establishment protest outside the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington.
With his removal, Stewart, a 2017 gubernatorial candidate and chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, became a high-profile casualty of the strained relations between the Trump campaign and party officials. The Trump campaign seemed to be in free fall after the revelation last week of a recording that showed Trump bragging in crude terms about using his star power to make aggressive sexual advances toward women.
Stewart had been a staunch defender of Trump as high-profile Republicans continued to defect. But by taking his own fight directly to the RNC’s doorstep, Stewart managed to anger both the party establishment and his own allies in Trump world, making his path to GOP nomination next year even more uncertain.
In a statement, Trump campaign deputy manager Dave Bossie said Stewart would be replaced immediately because he “staged a stunt in front of the RNC without the knowledge or the approval of the Trump campaign.” Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway went on to tout a “tremendous working relationship” with the RNC and Chairman Reince Priebus, whom Stewart recently labeled an “establishment puke.”
Stewart issued a news release early Monday afternoon saying he and “Virginia Women for Trump” would be protesting at the RNC building at 2 p.m. and later said on Facebook that was starting a “rebellion against GOP establishment pukes who betrayed Trump.”
In an interview, Stewart said he wanted to call attention to what he claimed was an effort by the RNC to divert resources away from the Trump campaign toward down-ticket races, which he said would guarantee a Trump loss. Just before the rally, Stewart said, he received a “threatening” text message from Bossie warning him to reverse course.
“I knew very well that by refusing to do so that it could cost me the chairmanship,” Stewart said. “But I thought it was that important to call out the RNC and hopefully get them to change course.”
John Fredericks, a conservative radio host and co-chair of Trump’s Virginia campaign, said Stewart was specifically told not to take part in the protest. Fredericks suggested Stewart did it anyway to further his own political ambitions.
“We’re running a national campaign not a gubernatorial race,” Fredericks said, adding that the decision to fire Stewart was made by the campaign, not the RNC or the Republican Party of Virginia.
Stewart disputed the idea that the rally was meant to boost his campaign.
“It doesn’t help me to get fired from the Trump campaign,” he said. “And I knew that was a very good possibility.”
Fredericks said he expects to continue his role as co-chair and spokesman for the Virginia campaign.
In a statement, RPV Chairman John Whitbeck said electing Trump is a “team effort.”
“While this turn of events is disappointing, I support the Trump campaign’s decision to remove their Virginia chairman,” Whitbeck said. “With less than a month until election day, we can’t afford any distractions.”
Susan Swecker, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, said in a statement: “The Republican Party is imploding nationally and Corey Stewart is leading the destruction here in Virginia. This didn’t happen overnight – Trump’s rise is a result of the Republican Party’s strategy of appealing to people’s fears. Donald Trump is a disgrace and those who stand by him and defend him will be paying the price for years to come, not just with women, but within their own party.”
In the GOP primary for governor, Stewart is competing against former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie, Rep. Robert J. Wittman, R-1st, and state Sen. Frank W. Wagner, R-Virginia Beach.
Gillespie, who has an early lead in fundraising and endorsements, publicly feuded with Stewart last month after Stewart called on all GOP hopefuls to suspend their campaigns and focus on getting Trump elected. Earlier, Stewart had criticized Gillespie and claimed his level of dedication to Trump was insufficient. The Gillespie campaign accused Stewart of “self-servingly” attacking fellow Republicans and called on Stewart to “focus his attacks on Democrats.”
Despite the Trump campaign severing ties, Stewart said he’ll continue to travel the state to support Trump.
“I believe in him,” Stewart said.
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