Virginia Election Offers a Real-World Test of Conservative Theory
The GOP is running a slate of socially-conservative candidates. Will the voters buy it?
Conservatives have a ready explanation whenever the GOP loses an election: The Republican candidate was too liberal.
You heard this again and again after Mitt Romney's loss to Barack Obama. "When conservative principles are the focal point of the election, they win," wrote Michael Walsh in National Review. "When 'electability' and 'reaching across the aisle' are personified in a middling candidate at the presidential level, they lose." The trouble with Romney, Walsh continued, was that he "spectacularly refused to engage the Democrats on an ideological level."
Red State's Erick Erickson seconded that motion: "Romney barely took on Barack Obama," he wrote as the electoral dust settled. "He drew few lines in the sand, made those fungible, and did not stand on many principles." A few days later, he repeated the message: "Mitt Romney tried to blur lines with Barack Obama. He did not defend social conservatism. …"
Chris Chocola, president of the Club For Growth, concurred: "The (Republican) party is rarely in a position to determine the best candidate. When you have someone who can articulate a clear, convincing, conservative message," he wrote, "they win."
"We wanted someone who would fight for us," complained Jenny Beth Martin of Tea Party Patriots. "What we got was a weak moderate candidate, hand-picked by the Beltway elites and country-club establishment wing of the Republican Party. The presidential loss is unequivocally on them." Martin delivered that judgment at a D.C. news conference where she was joined by other conservative luminaries such as direct-mail maestro Richard Viguerie and Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group.
Thirty-four days from today, the Old Dominion will provide a real-world test of that theory. When Virginians go to the polls, they will have the opportunity to vote for the most conservative slate of statewide candidates in modern times.
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli — for whom "tea party favorite" has become an all but official agnomen — outmaneuvered the Virginia GOP establishment to seize the gubernatorial nomination from the more moderate, less confrontational Bill Bolling. Bolling has since announced the creation of the Virginia Mainstream Project "to call our party back to a more mainstream approach."
Cuccinelli's conservatism is unadulterated: He fought the EPA over climate change and filed the first state suit against Obamacare. He opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest; considers homosexuality "intrinsically wrong"; supports school choice, gun rights, and tax cuts; and takes a hard-line stance on illegal immigration. Three years ago, he even handed out lapel pins to his staff bearing a more demure version of the state seal — one that covered up the otherwise exposed breast of the Roman goddess Virtus. (Racy stuff, if you squint really hard.)
State Sen. Mark Obenshain, running for Attorney General, is less pugnacious but no less conservative than Cuccinelli. He has supported both fetal "personhood" legislation and requiring an ultrasound as a precondition of abortion; favors requiring a photo ID to vote; wants to drug-test welfare recipients; has a 100 percent rating from the American Conservative Union; and once introduced legislation permitting state regulators to yank the license of any business employing an illegal alien.
And then there is E.W. Jackson, the nominee for lieutenant governor, whose pronouncements on social issues go too far even for his running mates. An August Times-Dispatch profile summarized some of them, noting that Jackson has "linked homosexuality to pedophilia, called gays and lesbians 'sick' and 'perverted,' ridiculed President Barack Obama's Christian faith and accused the Democratic Party of being 'anti-God'. … Jackson (also has) said … 'the Democrat Party and Planned Parenthood are partners in this genocide'" — i.e., the aborting of black children. Sunday before last, he suggested people of non-Christian faiths practice a "false religion."
Talk about drawing lines in the sand. These are not milquetoast conservatives, hand-picked by country-club RINOs. These are red-meat conservatives of crystalline purity and adamantine resolve — picked at a tea party-heavy convention attended by 13,000 of "the most strident voices in" the GOP, as a Bolling spokeman put it back in May.
After years of enduring candidates too moderate for their tastes, fire-and-brimstone conservatives have the ticket they always dreamed of — precisely the sort of Republican ticket, they insist, that wins elections. It is also precisely the sort of Republican ticket dreamed of by Democrats — who, believing the GOP slate is far too extreme for any rational voter to support, have made its conservative principles the focal point of the election.
In 34 days, we'll find out whose theory is right.
This article originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.