As many Democrats cope with their shock and dismay at Donald Trump’s victory, former U.S. Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia on Tuesday saluted the president-elect, railed against elitism and accused his party of abandoning “white working people.”

Webb, who sought the Democratic nomination for president last year before dropping out and considering an independent run, made his first public remarks on the presidential outcome Tuesday while speaking at a foreign policy conference sponsored by The American Conservative magazine.

“I would like to salute Donald Trump for his tenacity and for the uniqueness of his campaign,” Webb said at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., adding that he hopes the election result will “provide us an opportunity to reject a new form of elitism that has pervaded our societal mechanisms.”

Webb, who completed one six-year term in the Senate and declined to run for re-election in 2012, was lightheartedly introduced by political writer Bill Kaufmann as a strong prospect for secretary of defense or secretary of state in a Trump administration.

A Marine combat veteran of Vietnam who served as secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan, Webb dodged questions about whether he would serve in a Trump administration if asked. He would not opine on the fitness of former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, both said to be under consideration for foreign policy positions in Trump’s Cabinet.

It’s unclear if Webb is under consideration for a Trump Cabinet post. He said Tuesday that Trump’s presidency, though it will occur in a deeply divided country, brings “an opportunity to reshape our national strategy in a way that otherwise has not been possible.” He called for a more focused foreign policy that clearly communicates American interests and how they will be defended. He criticized what he described as a vague, interventionist approach to world affairs driven by the “responsibility to protect” philosophy.

Webb opposed the invasion of Iraq and has repeatedly questioned the foreign policy expertise of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. In March, Webb said he would not vote for Clinton but didn’t rule out supporting Trump. On Tuesday, he declined to reveal how he had voted.

“My vote’s my business,” Webb said. “This is America.”

Webb called Trump an outsider who spoke truth to “hard-working people out in flyover land” who have been abandoned by both parties. But he focused much of his critique on the Democrats, whom he said have drifted from their historical position as the “party of Franklin Roosevelt.”

“That party descended from the party that had championed the rights of working people — regardless of race, creed, gender or any other differentiation — to the point that it made white working people their most convenient whipping posts. Particularly white males,” Webb said. “It’s clearer now than it was 10 years ago when I was trying to put this on the table.”

Webb bemoaned the trend of Democrats renaming their traditional Jefferson-Jackson dinners to disassociate from the legacies of the two slave-holding presidents, whom Webb called “two great Americans.” He also pointed to the controversy at the University of Virginia in which students and faculty asked President Teresa Sullivan to stop quoting Thomas Jefferson in her communications.

“He gave them their school,” Webb said. “This is sort of Orwellian to me. You can’t constantly reinvent your history in order to shape the issues of today.”

Webb said every racial group has “wildly successful people at the very top and desperately poor people at the bottom,” a reality he said is ignored by affirmative-action programs that he said have expanded beyond a noble goal of battling the legacy of African-American slavery to benefit anyone who is non-white.

“Using vague labels about race and ethnicity might satisfy the quotas of government programs, but they have very little to do with reality, whether it’s blacks in west Baltimore who have been ignored and left behind or whites in the hollows of West Virginia,” Webb said.

“Behind the veneer of diversity, there is an interlocking elite that has melded business, media and politics in a way we could never could before imagine. And many of these people also hold a false belief that they understand a society with which they have very little contact. And nothing has so clearly shown how wrong they are than the recent election of Donald Trump.”

gmoomaw@timesdispatch.com


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