November 10, 2013
Republicans in the Wake of Christie and Cuccinelli
By Sally Zelikovsky
It's time to ponder some of the "insight" from the punditry now that we've had a good week -- a lifetime in political years -- to mull over the Cuccinelli-McAuliffe gubernatorial race in Virginia. According to the political cognoscenti on both the left and right, the takeaway is that the GOP must run moderates in order to win purple states. It's no surprise coming from liberals, but some of the most vociferous proponents of this notion are Republicans.
Jennifer Rubin (R) at the Washington Post said:
The bottom line: It is very, very hard to get mainstream conservatives to support a radical right-winger when a Democrat perceived to be a middle-of-the-roader is on the ballot. The GOP would do well to keep this in mind in 2016."Radical right-winger" sounds like lib-speak to me, Jen, and thy words cut me to the quick, but I digress.
Rubin claims that even if moderates vote for the GOP in swing states, there aren't enough of them to allow a victory if they lose the left and the middle. Well, Republican candidates of any flavor will rarely reel in Democrat devotees. As for the middle, in a country that's been equally divided among Rs and Ds for decades, those swing votes are always in play and always the focus. But what confounds me about Rubin's claim is that Cuccinelli got 92% of the Republican vote. He lost only 4% to McAuliffe and 4% to liberal plant-libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis. That means 9.2 out of 10 Republicans (including moderates who just can't stomach the extremists in the GOP) still voted for this "radical right-winger."
Turns out Christie scored just about the same among Republicans -- garnering 93% of the Republican vote,
losing 6% to his Democrat opponent. So how badly did Cuccinelli really underperform among those in his own party? If this Tea Party lunatic couldn't get moderate Rs to vote for him, then I guess neither could Christie. Does this make Christie a fanatic as well?
Cuccinelli also received 47% of the "independent or something else" vote (swing voters) versus McAuliffe, who received only 38%, with Sarvis getting 15%. It seems, then, that Cuccinelli won the independent vote (but not by enough to put him over the finish line). Could it be that the fake libertarian candidate lured away from Cuccinelli not only up to 4% of Republican votes, but the Independent votes as well? In an election world without Sarvis, Cuccinelli could have had as much as 62% of the independent vote -- not that far off from Christie, who got 66% of the independent vote in a race with only one Democrat challenger (that is, sans a third-party candidate).
I don't see how these facts support Rubin's point that guys like Cuccinelli drive away moderate Republicans, swing voters, and indies, and we therefore have to put up less radical candidates in 2016 in order to win. They just plain don't.
Why are people still pushing this bunk? In California, we ran Fiorina as opposed to the "radical" Chuck DeVore, and she still lost. Same for Meg Whitman. On a national scale, we ran Dole, McCain, and Romney -- all considered less "hardcore" than their primary challengers. Our last three winners were Reagan and both Bushes -- who ran their campaigns as devout conservatives.
(Even if you don't believe that W is an unapologetic conservative or governed as one, he still ran both campaigns as one.) Bush 41's loss to Clinton was due in great part to a third-party candidate siphoning off votes.
There are definitely blue states we cannot win whether we run moderates or traditional conservatives. But we can and have indeed won many gubernatorial races in purplish states with strong conservatives who didn't hold back on their views. Every time we suffer a setback -- even one we should never have experienced -- we don't have to fall back on the canard that we are too conservative to win in a liberal world and must therefore moderate our views, scale back our principles, and appeal to liberal voters by embracing liberal policies. After all, baby-boomers, millennials, and Gen-Xers are all aging. They will inevitably be mugged by reality someday. Where will they turn if the two parties are virtually indistinguishable?
In his article in the Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove (R) recites a comprehensive list of factors that contributed to Cuccinelli's loss. He left one out, though: the fact that financial support from the RNC was nonexistent in the weeks leading up to the election, when it was clearly prime time to capitalize on the ObamaCare rollout debacle.
In highlighting his position that the shutdown was an "ill-devised strategy" that served as a distraction during the election and alienated 300,000 federal workers and retirees, as well as members of the military who reside in Virginia, Rove references the comment of Cuccinelli's campaign strategist, Chris LaCivita, to the Washington Post, wondering what the outcome would have been if Cuccinelli had had more time to debate ObamaCare and didn't have to deal with the shutdown. Rove neglected to include anywhere in his piece LaCivita's remark -- also reported in the Washington Post -- that "Cuccinelli might have been able to pull out a win if he had received more financial support from national Republican sources."
(I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the article in The Hill reporting that exit polls indicate that neither the shutdown nor the ObamaCare debacle had a discernible impact on the election. So, back to the drawing board.)
Why did Rove omit this one factor but include virtually every other consideration in his very thorough list? Is a shellacking due to a lack of backing so unheard of that it justifies no mention? On the contrary. How many times have we seen the reality play out that he who has the most money to blast the airwaves usually wins? Money might not be able to buy you love, but it sure can buy you an election.
Rove also points to Cuccinelli's outspoken and often brash musings on social issues and immigration as incidences that affected his campaign -- not so much what he said, but how he said it. And yet, isn't it the very same brashness and outspokenness we see in Chris Christie that so many embrace -- almost worship -- including many in the Republican moneyed class who are propping him up for a presidential run?
Both Cuccinelli and Christie campaigned for governor in non-red states and received over 90% of the Republican vote and the majority of independents. But Christie -- a perceived moderate -- is good, and Cuccinelli -- a supposed Tea Party zealot -- is bad.
Both are openly anti-gay marriage and anti-abortion, both are outspoken about these views, and both have, at times, been less than suave in how they have expressed themselves -- a liability for Cuccinelli, but a plus for Christie!
Methinks the problem isn't so much the candidate as the electorate. Perhaps swing voters in New Jersey just aren't the same as those in Virginia.
Could it be that Christie -- an incumbent -- had an extensive gubernatorial record for voters to examine and ponder that Cuccinelli's voters did not have? Christie also didn't have a libertarian luring away Republicans who are fed up with the GOP or more libertarian on social or national security issues. Is it possible that genteel Southerners have more of a problem with chutzpah than folks who are used to the New Jersey way?
Isn't it possible that Cuccinelli lost not so much because he was a strong conservative (aka an extreme right-winger in Jen Rubin's world), but because the left-wing machine spent gobs of money talking up a few issues that appeal to young voters, single women, and minorities and then brought in the Clintons to further drive in the knife? Isn't it possible that the McAuliffe campaign used their money and the Clinton clout to endlessly portray Cuccinelli on the airwaves as an intolerant, racist misogynist and that this resonated with the young, female, and victimized?
Isn't this exactly the tactic Obama used in the last election -- micro-targeting women, minorities, and the youth, focusing on issues important to them, and scaring them all the way to the polls? Isn't it more likely that Cuccinelli was mischaracterized as a monster in order to scare out the vote than that he is a fanatical right-winger with a penchant for blurting out offensive epithets? As the editors of the Washington Post hyperventilated, Cuccinelli's record was:
... mainly about bashing homosexuals, harassing illegal immigrants, crusading against abortion, denying climate change, flirting with birthers and opposing gun control. A hero to the tea party and a culture warrior of the first rank, Mr. Cuccinelli lost because he was among the most polarizing and provocative figures in Richmond for a decade.
This is a meme on which the Democrat-Media Complex perseverates, and has been perseverating for decades. The answer isn't to run wimpy candidates who antagonize the base. It is to outflank them on this tactic by being prepared ahead of time and meeting the accusations head-on.
We all understand the motivation for the left-wing obsession that Republican losses are brought on by radical candidates and that if the GOP wants to win, it has to run moderates -- leftists seek to divide the Republican vote and ensure Democrat victories. It's also why they put up false libertarian candidates in "iffy" races. I just don't understand why the same narrative is exploited by Republicans, who call for unity while pushing aside their own.
(Akin and Mourdock have become the poster boys for why we need to oust whack-jobs and run moderates, but can we concede that these guys were outliers exploited to the hilt by the left and do not represent the majority of principled Tea Party conservatives who did get elected, like Senators Lee, Cruz, and Rubio?)
Back to the narrative embraced by too many influential Republicans -- it's a false one. Take, for example, governors in Louisiana, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. All "strong conservatives" (some might even say "radical Tea Party types") in states that are not bright red. And Christie -- while nothing but confounding in the way he's handled some social issues as of late -- ran both times as an unapologetic conservative, outspoken about his "extreme" views on abortion and gay marriage. The Democrats, women, and minorities who voted for Christie knew that -- it was no secret! And yet they still voted for him, even though they disagreed with him on many social issues. That's because they had four years of vastly improved circumstances in NJ to judge Christie and make an informed decision based on empirical evidence. The quality of their lives trumped party loyalty. Moreover, Christie was able to effectively and convincingly combat any Democrat-Media libels with his deep pocketbook.
My humble take on this whole thing is this: there is no question that national Republican money should have been funneled towards the only gubernatorial race in the country that was up for grabs, and that was in Virginia. Christie didn't need it -- he was well-funded, and it was only a matter of how much of a margin his win would be.
And here's something else Republicans need to do -- toot their own horn more. There should have been a massive advertising campaign on Cuccinelli's behalf touting the proven successes of Republican governors in states like Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Louisiana, South Carolina, etc. The voter needs to see and hear about the better lives people are experiencing in these states under Republican governors, and we need to lay out the connection between this improved quality of life and the conservative policies these governors have implemented -- just as they would have experienced in Virginia with Ken Cuccinelli as their governor.
Republicans are our own worst enemies. We don't collectively support candidates who might be considered either too moderate or too traditional. We turn on our own and, by doing so, end up amplifying the fictions being peddled by the Democrat-Media Complex -- meaning we don't form a protective layer around our candidates the way the left do when they are being attacked. We often agree with them. And when we spend money, we neglect to promote our own successes. We often let the left define our candidacies to such an extent we are playing defense to their accusations and distractions instead of controlling the narrative ourselves.
Did we learn nothing from Andrew Breitbart? Perhaps this is why Christie -- a brash, unapologetic social conservative who considers himself a Tea Party guy -- won in a very blue state.