Of course, one really doesn’t expect Jeff Schapiro at the Richmond Times-Dispatch to be effusive of his praise of the late RPV Chairman Pat Mullins — a trader in “horseflesh” seems a bit more, oh I dunno, lacuna rather than locution — but his overall point about how the fortunes (and demographics) of the Republican Party have changed are worth noting in full.

To wit, Schapiro juxtaposes President Trump’s stance on immigration against the values of “New Virginians” and particularly those of tiki-torched Prince William County:

[Prince William County has] recently overtaken Virginia Beach, once a Republican bulwark that shows Democratic tendencies, as the second-largest locality in Virginia behind Fairfax County.

It’s not just that Prince William, an outer suburb of Washington that sits just below Fairfax, is large, with a population of 454,000. It’s that Prince William is majority-minority, with African-Americans, Asians and Hispanics, combined, outnumbering whites.

This is not a slice of the Virginia population with which the Republican Party — lopsidedly white, heavily male and reflexively conservative — easily gets along. Perhaps that explains the GOP’s voter registration push in the countryside, targeting an audience that is — you guessed it — lopsidedly white, heavily male and reflexively conservative.

The op-ed is worth reading in its entirety.  If McDonnell’s 2009 race proved to be the high water mark, it was Mullins who effectively ensured that the party apparatus worked to either help directly or stay out of the way.  Given the immigrant bashing of Corey Stewart and the positively Northam-esque realism of Frank Wagner, all of these place an intended burden on our presumptive frontrunner — Ed Gillespie.

…and yet.

Eight years on — after two more presidential wins here, the election of a second Democratic U.S. senator and the party’s 2013 sweep for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general — Republicans are facing headwinds similar to those that pummeled Democrats against the McDonnell-led juggernaut.

. . .

That is playing out again in 2017, this time to the Republicans’ disadvantage.

Are we really all that sure about this?  

As Schapiro notes, it was Gillespie that helped orchestrate the McDonnell 2009 victory that swept in Bolling and Cuccinelli in a rising tide that proved to be a tidal wave.  This same Gillespie is the 2014 U.S. Senate candidate who outperformed the Virginia polls by nine points and very nearly toppled a man considered to be Virginia’s most popular elected official.

What is more, we have had two national special elections thus far — neither of which Democrats have been able to pick up.  How many “close calls” can a divided Democratic base between a more centrist driven liberalism and a radically progressive left wing endure?

The fact of the matter is, while Schapiro thinks we are heading towards a Democratic version of 2009, if Perriello does indeed become the nominee?  We could very well be heading towards a Republican version of 2013, with Perriello playing the role of Ken Cuccinelli.

…and the Democrats don’t have a Pat Mullins to unite the 2017 base after the election.

All of this having been said, there are two grand variables at play here: (1) Can the Republican Party finally drive out the nativist sentiment within the ranks, its pervasiveness we will see in direct sunlight after the June primary, and (2) can the Democrats in Virginia actually unite after a replay of Hillary/Bernie 2016 without coming off as absolutely unhinged to the “honorable middle” that will determine the outcome?

If anything, that is the lesson of modern Virginia politics.  It’s how our electorate can swing so wildly from Obama in 2008 to McDonnell in 2009, reject both gubernatorial candidates in 2013 then rise up and embrace both in 2014.

Yes, Virginia… there is an honorable middle.