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Why one Republican lost his re-election bid to a more conservative rival

While House Democrats lost races in some Republican-leaning districts, one Republican was ousted by a challenger from his own party on the right. Lisa Desjardins spoke with Rep. Denver Riggleman, a first-term Virginia Republican, about why he lost the race.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    While a new class of congressional representatives join the halls of the Capitol in the new year, we chat with departing members who lost tough reelection races.

    Earlier this week, I spoke with outgoing Congresswoman Donna Shalala.

    Lisa Desjardins continues our coverage.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    While House Democrats lost some races in Republican-leaning districts, one Republican was ousted by a challenger from the right.

    We have followed Republican Denver Riggleman of Virginia throughout his freshman term in Congress, and he joins us now.

    Congressman, thank you.

    I know the charge and the headlines in your race were that you weren't conservative enough. But I want to ask you, why do you think you lost? And what does it mean to be in the Republican Party right now?

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    I think one of the reasons I lost, Lisa — and, by the way, thanks for having me.

    I think one of the reasons that I lost was really my independent-minded way of doing things. And once I officiated that same-sex wedding back in the summer of 2019, and some of the things that I stood for as far as health care and rural broadband in a district bigger than New Jersey, I think some of those things actually sort of conspired against me, right?

    And, also, I was new to politics, and I thought an independent-minded person is what people wanted. And I think that's why I won, but I think it's also why I lost.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    What do you think it means to be a Republican? Are you still a Republican?

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman:

    Very difficult right now.

    You know, I feel like that I'm willingly tribeless, right? And I think a lot of it has to do with what I'm seeing with some of the bizarre conspiracy theories I'm seeing propagated by just certain people on the right.

    I really think the Republicans should stay out of people's pocketbooks, but I think they should stay out of people's bedrooms, too. And I'm seeing a party that's just small enough to fit in the bedroom, and that's not really the way that I'm wired. And so it's an interesting thing.

    I thought it was a constitutional Republican in the mold of the Teddy Roosevelts and the Abraham Lincolns. But as far as the some of the specific portions of the Virginia Republican Party, I don't think I'm a great fit.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You know, there's also the Trump Republican Party. You are one of the few House Republicans to have said openly that Joe Biden won the election.

    You are in the Freedom Caucus. You know the Republicans who are saying the election is rigged, without giving any proof. I wonder, why do you think they're saying that? Are they talking themselves into believing it? Is this politics? Why is that?

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman:

    I don't know what's in their heart, Lisa, but I tell you, my background is an intelligence officer. It is disinformation, it's radicalization, it's counterterrorism.

    And I'm not sure if they're afraid of voters, if they're worried about being tossed out of the tribe, or if there's something in them that actually believe some of this, because I will tell you, I have seen sort of odd things in my life. Some of these conspiracy theories that are coming out of the dark corners of the Internet and now are getting life in the real world, I mean, what's next, you know, aliens are beaming information into voting machines?

    I mean, this is crazy. And I think we need to be very cognizant about information that could radicalize others that's really based on nothing but myth and conspiracy theories.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Charlottesville is in your district, a place that has dealt with rhetoric turning into violence, as we saw in 2017, when a protester was killed.

    And now we see Trump allies still saying things like, this week, that his opponents should be shot. How dangerous do you think that rhetoric is, or are we paying too much attention to these sort of lone extreme voices?

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman:

    For me, I think you drag everything into the light and let the sunlight disinfect it.

    But I think what's also scary is, you have two retired generals that are talking about martial law. And I think it's very odd that that's not a bigger story, because what they're basing it on is ridiculous, whether it's NSA trying to crack into computers, whether it's Dominion having code that's been manipulated, whether it's the Army storming some barracks in Germany. All these things are just poppycock.

    And I think we have got to be worried about the radicalization of those, based on — again, based on information that's just not true. This is dangerous. And this can convert into dangerous behavior. I have been warning about this for months. And I think we're seeing some of that, sort of that bizarre manifestation of conspiracy theories that are being made real by people that don't have proper information.

    And I think this is a massive grift. I think, when you talk about the Kraken, I think the only thing they're cracking into are people's pocketbooks on this grift.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I don't hear you mentioning President Trump and any responsibility he has for this.

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman:

    Well, he does have responsibility. I think that's where I got in trouble.

    I think, when you retweet something that says that Joe Biden killed SEAL Team Six, I think, when you retweet something where it says that Osama bin Laden had a body double, and that's part of the QAnon conspiracy theory, that is absolutely something you shouldn't do.

    And it's not just irresponsible. There are people out there who believe this stuff. So I would say stop this. Let's stop this now. Accept that you lost the election, we have a new vice president-elect in Joe Biden, and let's push forward.

    But this is ridiculous. And, again, when you see the type of money that they're making off of this, it's just sad. They're really separating people from their money on things that are just simply not true.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    What did you learn in your time in Congress about how Washington works or doesn't work?

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman:

    That the tribe is more important than facts. And that's what I learned. And it was something that I had to try to maneuver through. And I knew what I had to do.

    I know — and I just rejected it. And I think that's why I'm a bit proud of how I went out. But I think that we have to have facts and policy be more important than belonging to a specific party, and put people over party, rather than party over people.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And I'm curious, what adjectives would you use now to describe how you feel at this moment?

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman:

    I think the adjectives that I would use now are, I would say, proud of what I have done, but, also, there's trepidation.

    And it's also now a determination, a willingness to try to change the way that we talk about each other and to stop the dehumanization that's going on in politics right now. I think it's not just the politics of personal destruction anymore. I think it's the politics of group destruction.

    And that happens through propagating these conspiracy theories.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Denver Riggleman, outgoing congressman from Virginia's Fifth District, thank you for joining us.

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman:

    Thanks, Lisa. I appreciate it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And since he sat down with Lisa, Congressman Riggleman says he is receiving multiple violent threats, including death threats.

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