Political Animal


December 26, 2012 10:20 AM No Moderate Makeover in Virginia

By Ed Kilgore

The only year-end phenomenon more predictable than “fiscal cliff” doom-crying is the plethora of claims that sensible folk (if not this very day then tomorrow!) are regaining control of the Republican Party as movement conservatives sulk on the sidelines or tear into each other.

This eternally recurring vision of “adults” curbing the unruly Tea Party naifs—one of the major Beltway subtexts of the recently deceased Romney presidential campaign, of course—is colliding with reality in the key 2013 election battleground of Virginia, as Politico’s Jonathan Martin notices today:

As the Old Dominion becomes a firmly centrist state, more closely resembling the rest of the country demographically and politically, Virginia Republicans are shifting rightward.
After President Barack Obama carried the state twice, it’s plausible that the party will nominate a slate of three movement conservative white males for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general next year.

But wait: isn’t Virginia the place where Republicans reacting to that state’s historic shift into the Democratic column in 2008 launched a national party comeback in 2009 under the leadership of a gubernatorial candidate—Bob McDonnell—who quickly morphed from a howling-at-the-moon social reactionary to a sensible “adult” only interested in fiscal issues?

Yeah, but the howling-at-the-moon faction in Virginia has already destroyed the once-certain gubernatorial candidacy of McDonnell’s annointed successor, two-term Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, by successfully backing a party nominating convention for state candidates instead of a primary. So the candidate who makes Virginia Democrats salivate, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, will top the 2013 ticket, and he’s far beyond a McDonnell-style last-minute moderate makeover. And his backers don’t want one anyway, says Martin:

Virginia GOP Chairman Pat Mullins insisted at the state party’s “Advance” [event] that Republicans still have a winning formula.
“Virginia’s a conservative state, and when we stick up for our beliefs, and our values, and our principles … we win elections,” said Mullins, according to The Washington Post. “When we choose to run like Democrats, we lose elections because we haven’t given anybody a choice.”
Mullins’s assertion, even with latitude given for the rah-rah circumstances of a party rally, confounds many longtime observers of Old Dominion politics.
“Their election analysis is a predictable one-note samba,” said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. “It’s never their issues or their inclusiveness. Therefore, the solution is always to look for a better messenger for hard-core conservatism, ignoring the hard reality that some of their message, especially on social issues, is alienating large segments of the population in an increasingly diverse and moderate state.”
“There’s this tremendous disconnect,” commented one Richmond Republican hand of how the GOP has become more conservative even as Democrats have won two presidential races, two of the last three gubernatorial contests and both Senate seats. “It seems that both in Virginia and nationally the movement conservatives are getting more and more rabid and less enthralled with establishment conservatives like George Allen and more into the crusaders.”

So whenever you read the next celebration of Tea Party disarray or alleged Republican “reflection,” keep an eye on Virginia, where post-election talk is over and politics have already entered the “midterm” cycle, in which conservatives rejoice at the prospect of a significantly smaller electorate. That’s a better harbinger of the Elephant’s future state of mind.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Ronald on December 26, 2012 10:35 AM:

    Personally, I've always been maintaining that it is the Republican ideas is what is the problem and not how they've been, or are going to be, expressed.

    It is pretty apparent that the Teapers still don't like the Establishment, and vice-versa. It is also apparent that those two factions blame each other for the last cycle.

    For a party that ignored facts and reality during the election, and continues to ignore facts and reality (such as with the 'fiscal cliff'), the fact that they are now ignoring facts and reality when it comes to the next election cycle isn't all that surprising.

  • c u n d gulag on December 26, 2012 10:40 AM:

    When George Allen becomes too Liberal, then you know the Conservatives in VA are off their med's.

    I mean, fer-Christ's-sake, the motherfecker had a noose hanging in his office!
    A NOOSE!
    And now HE'S TOO "Centrist?"

    And women in Virginia, beware: Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli isn't nicknamed, "Cooch," fer nohin'!
    'Cause your "cooch" is what he wants to probe, before he and his ilk will allow you your constitutioanally guaranteed right to choose.

    So, don't choose "Cooch!"

  • ex-curm on December 26, 2012 10:55 AM:

    I just wish Virginia Dems had a more inspiring candidate than money-obsessed, centrist businessman hack Terry McAuliffe

  • bluestatedon on December 26, 2012 11:26 AM:

    I look forward to the 2016 GOP ticket of Rick Santorum and Ken Kookinelli. Their campaign slogan will be "Forward into the Past!" and one of the planks in the GOP platform will be opposition to the Germ Theory of Disease, which is a liberal Darwinist plot to do away with the fact that illness is caused by insufficient faith in Jesus.

  • jjm on December 26, 2012 12:15 PM:

    This is what a sinking ship looks like -- panic among those on it.

  • Rich on December 26, 2012 12:44 PM:

    Despite Virginia's being annointed as a purple state (mostly by journos who probably live there or certainly have colleagues who live there), it's a state that features often close statewide races that usually consist of a center-right Dem and a nutcase GOPer. In recent decades, it's also favored people who consistly make lists of dumbest pols: George Allen, John Warner, and Chuck Robb among others. Virginia, particularly Northern Virginia, shows signs of joining the 20th if not 21st century, but it shows nearly equal capacity for remaining somewhere in the 18th or 19yj centurey.