Updated 11:56 a.m. on January 3, 2020.
Denver Riggleman had a rough December. For one thing, he’s about to lose his job: Over the summer, members of the Virginia GOP voted to kick the freshman Republican out of Congress, largely because he publicly officiated a same-sex wedding. Riggleman’s cousin died of COVID-19 the week before Christmas, and his grandmother had to be hospitalized with the virus. Now, as his family gets sick all around him, Riggleman is about to be replaced in Congress by a coronavirus skeptic. “We have got to stop the insanity, and stop accepting the hoax that says forcing people to wear a mask, forcing businesses to close, prohibiting worship services, and keeping kids out of school will make a significant difference in whether or not we will die from this virus,” tweeted Bob Good, the representative-elect from Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District, on the same day the U.S. death toll passed 291,000.
A few years ago, Republicans might have seen a guy like Riggleman as their future. He’s a small-business owner from the rural part of a purple-blue state who cares a lot about national security and keeping taxes low, and not much about policing people’s personal lives. In the infamous 2013 GOP autopsy report diagnosing why Republicans kept losing the popular vote and popular support, party leaders wrote that “young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out” if the GOP does not become more inclusive. The culture wars were over, the report seemed to suggest—standing against same-sex marriage was a way to lose elections, not win them. But as Riggleman’s saga makes clear, there are many places in the country where issues such as LGBTQ rights are not at all settled. As the 117th Congress convenes this month, voices from those places may be the loudest ones on the right. “I’ve been screaming, ‘We need to become a big-tent party!’ for some time,” Riggleman told me. “But I think they misunderstood me and thought I meant ‘carnival tent.’”