GOP gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie told the annual Americans for Prosperity summit on Saturday that conservatives reject the white supremacists who caused violence in Charlottesville last weekend and called them “the presence of evil in the world.”
Most of the white supremacists came from outside Virginia, he said.
“These people were not on a legitimate left-to-right spectrum of any kind,” Gillespie said, drawing applause. “On a scale of one to 10 — with one being the most liberal and 10 being the most conservative — these racists, these white supremacists, these neo-Nazis, they are a yellow. They are not on the same spectrum at all.
“Theirs is a twisted mindset rooted in hating and oppressing ... and my fellow Virginians and my fellow conservatives reject that kind of twisted mindset.”
Americans for Prosperity, a conservative policy organization backed by billionaires Charles and David Koch, held its Defending the American Dream summit at the Richmond Marriott, it included speeches from former GOP presidential candidate Steve Forbes and U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
Gillespie spent much of his 11-minute speech focused on last weekend’s events in Charlottesville, where white supremacists descended for a rally ostensibly over the removal of a Robert E. Lee monument. The weekend turned violent, resulting in the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer and two state police pilots whose helicopter crashed.
Gillespie attended the funerals for Heyer, and for Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates and on Saturday for Lt. H. Jay Cullen.
“The belief that one race is superior to another or that ... someone’s religion is inferior to one’s own is not just anti-American, it’s worse than that. It’s not just immoral, it’s worse than that. It is the presence of evil in the world and we reject it,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie also talked about his plan to cut the state income tax rate and his desire to cut regulations that hinder startup businesses in Virginia.
John Adams, the GOP nominee for attorney general, and Jill Holtzman Vogel, a state senator and the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor, also addressed the summit of several hundred attendees.
Gillespie was not available to speak with a reporter after his speech, said campaign manager Chris Leavitt.
“If Ed Gillespie wants to be serious about condemning hate, he needs to start by denouncing Donald Trump’s horrific defense of the white supremacists in Charlottesville,” Kevin Donohoe, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia, said in a statement.
The longtime GOP consultant and strategist faces Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, the Democratic nominee for governor, in a race viewed by many national pundits as a referendum on Trump. Trump’s comments following the Charlottesville violence blaming “many sides” upset political leaders in both parties.
Gillespie did not mention Trump during his speech.
The president, with a historically low approval rating, remains an element in the race, but Gillespie has kept his focus on pushing policy ideas for Virginia and generally avoiding discussion of Trump.
Americans for Prosperity has spent $288,000 so far this year in opposition to Northam, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
Gillespie did consulting work last year for AT&T, Anthem, Microsoft, Bank of America and the Institute for Energy Research and its affiliate American Energy Alliance. Thomas J. Pyle, the president of the Institute for Energy Research, was previously a Koch Industries lobbyist and served on Trump’s transition team.
Vice President Mike Pence had been scheduled as the keynote speaker at the summit, but Pence canceled this week to attend a security meeting with Trump at Camp David.
Forbes, the chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media, called for “a big fat tax cut” and lamented Republicans “floundering” in Congress under a Republican president.
“Their first mistake as you well know was doing health care instead of tax cuts,” he said.
Republicans failed in their effort to overturn the 2010 Affordable Care Act, he said, because they allowed Democrats to define the debate.
If they enact a big tax cut, no one will complain when the economy booms, he said.
“We’ve got to get that big tax bill through, and to heck with all the obstacles, just full steam ahead,” Forbes said. “Damn the torpedoes, damn the CBO. Just do it.” The acronym refers to the Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan agency that does fiscal analyses for Congress.
Ross said Trump is restoring the economy and told the summit, “Do not let the left-wing media distract or confuse you.”
“I’m glad to report the president withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord,” he said to applause. “The war on coal is finally over. He has ended the vicious so-called Clean Power Plan. I used to be in the coal business so I know how many communities depend on coal for their very existence, and I’m proud to stand behind the president who has ended the constant assault on coal country.”