So Ken Cuccinelli, for those of you who don’t know, is the Republican candidate for Governor this year.
He’s currently the Attorney General for Virginia, and is, unsurprisingly, a conservative. I mean, A CONSERVATIVE. I mean, I’m not sure you’re getting this: HE’S A CONSERVATIVE!!!!!!!
How conservative? Well, he supported Arizona’s immigration law that required people to produce proof of citizenship on demand. He opposed adding sexual orientation language to affirmative action and other protected activities codes at college campuses. He opposed sex education on college campuses. He doesn’t think greenhouse gases are a threat to human health and opposed increasing fuel efficiency standards. He’s (obviously) pro-life (as conservatives understand the term), and thinks that the 14th amendment should be amended to assure that children born in the US of illegal immigrants should not be entitled to US citizenship. He’s a big fan of concealed carry for guns, but unsurprisingly is not a promoter of gay rights. Indeed, he argues homosexual activity of any sort is wrong, intrinsically. (I presume he did not watch the HBO film, “Behind the Candelabra,” about Liberace this last weekend.)
Nothing in that list necessarily puts Cuccinelli outside the typical set of Virginia conservatives’ beliefs, of course. There are no doubt parts of his agenda that might make conservatives uncomfortable, but overall, that’s a pretty typical “Southern conservative” profile.
No, it’s not that he was nominated that is the problem as such. Rather, it’s how he was nominated.
See, Cuccinelli was not nominated in a primary of all Republican voters in Virginia. He surmised — probably correctly — that in an open competition among all Republicans, the narrowly conservative point of view he articulated might not win the nomination. He guessed that he would split the vote with other conservatives, or that voters might not wonder if he was too conservative to win in what is trending-Democratic state. (Certainly so in presidential elections.)
In either case, Cuccinelli suspected he likely would not win a primary. So he and his supporters engineered that he be nominated by a party convention. Party members from around the state traveled to a meeting to nominate their Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General candidates.
The thing is, only truly committed activists are likely to give the kind of time and effort needed to attend a state convention well away from their jobs and families. Ideologically motivated people are likely to o so; moderates aren’t.
So, naturally, Cuccinelli won the nomination, as did arch-conservatives for both Lt. Gov and AG.
What has been the result? The Democratic candidate, Terry Macauliffe, has been much more competitive than he was expected to be, and indeed has been leading in some polls. In what most expected to be a Republican-friendly year in Virginia, Cuccinelli has alienated enough moderate Republicans to — there’s no other way to say it — make Terry Macauliffe look good. Or at least better.
This is the struggle the Republicans find themselves stuck in. To satisfy the ideologically motivated, they must be “pure” conservatives. To win general elections in swing states, they have to be compromisers. Until they figure out how to square that circle, the party’s fortunes look dim.