By Rob Abbot:
As the race between Jennifer Wexton and Barbara Comstock to represent Virginia’s 10th district in Congress heats up, we need to be ready for Comstock to revert to her usual vicious and false campaign tactics.
To see her modus operandi clearly, you need look no farther than her last contest. Just last month, she faced a relative unknown, retired Air Force pilot Shak Hill, in the Republican primary for the seat. Apparently worried that her funding and name recognition advantages would not see her through, she unleashed a scurrilous attack on Hill two weeks before the election, using a puerile nickname (“Shady Shack”), childish insults (“creepy”; “can’t win”) and insinuendos that her opponent was a pornographer.
This was business as usual for Comstock. In her five previous election contests –three for state delegate followed by two for Congress — she showed an aptitude for finding a small chink in her opponent’s armor and magnifying it to create a misleading, even slanderous narrative that portrays the opponent as personally dishonorable. Sadly, these reprehensible tactics have worked — she has been successful in all these races.
Here are some examples:
— In her first campaign in 2009, for Virginia House of Delegates, Comstock accused her opponent of abetting child molesters. In truth, the opponent had voted for an austerity budget that provided for early release of non-violent offenders.
— In 2011, running for re-election, she maintained that her opponent had supported raising taxes –even though the opponent had never held public office.
–In 2013, running for a third term in the Virginia house, she painted her opponent as a tax cheat. The reality is that the opponent’s spouse had been late paying a property tax bill.
Even before running for office herself, Comstock had become a veteran in using smear tactics against political enemies. As an investigator for a Republican Congress member in the 1990s she spearheaded massive, coordinated efforts to bring down President Bill Clinton with fake “scandals” such as Filegate, Travelgate, and Whitewater.
Media accounts of her pulling all-nighters poring over thousands of pages of subpoenaed documents somehow paint this behavior as endearing. In truth, Comstock built her career and reputation by trying to tear down Democratic opponents, not on the basis of policy disagreements but by suggesting that the opponent is morally repugnant and unfit to serve.
Comstock’s underhanded tactics don’t stop there. In order to curry favor among a constituency that actually voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016 by 10 points, she portrays herself as a moderate. But in truth she votes in line with Pres. Trump 98% of the time, among the highest scores in Congress. And this is not new– back in 2014, The Washington Post lamented her extreme conservatism and questioned her honesty in an editorial.
Since her extreme voting and lack of credibility align so neatly with Trump, it is not surprising that her campaign style does as well.
If someone suggests that Trump’s erratic, buffoonish behavior puts Comstock in a difficult position, we should point out that she has spent over twenty-five years helping build the tactics of modern Republican campaigning that have culminated with Trump.
Judging by her recent primary campaign, where she used these tactics against a fellow Republican, she can be expected to continue to destroy any possibility of restoring civility to public discourse.
But this time we must be ready to call her out for the smear tactics she has relied on throughout her career. The voters of the Tenth District deserve better.
Rob Abbot has been active in politics in Arlington County and Fairfax County’s Dranesville District for many years and was the 2011 Dranesville District Democratic Committee Volunteer of the Year