Last night, Democrat Terry McAuliffe squeaked out a narrow victory in the Virginia governor’s race, beating Republican challenger Ken Cuccinelli by a mere 2 percentage points.
McAuliffe should be well known to WizBang readers. A former Clinton crony and fundraising genius, he masterfully weaseled his way into numerous business deals (usually by offering access to the highest levels of government influence) and earned a huge personal fortune. McAuliffe rose to the position of DNC Chair in 2001 and served as an executive director in Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. He has remained a very popular figure within the Democratic party and easily secured the gubernatorial nomination earlier this year.
Ken Cuccinelli is currently the attorney general of Virginia. He holds strong conservative views and has shaped his policies accordingly. He opposed efforts to allow the state’s universities to classify ‘sexual orientation,’ ‘gender identity,’ or ‘gender expression’ as protected classes under civil rights law. He is a global warming skeptic and has challenged several EPA mandates involving greenhouse gasses and carbon emissions. Cuccinelli joined eight other states in filing an amicus brief in support of Arizona’s efforts to enforce existing Federal immigration law. And he filed one of the first state lawsuits challenging the Constitutionality of Obamacare.
Democrats wasted no time attacking Cuccinelli as an extremist, linking him with the Tea Party and accusing him of being a homophobic bigot controlled by the Koch brothers. McAuliffe outspent Republican campaign efforts by $15 million, and Democrat operatives even funded the Libertarian candidate, Robert Sarvis. As of two weeks ago polls predicted McAuliffe to cruise to an easy victory, perhaps in the double digits.
So where was the national Republican Party? The RNC committed three times as much money to Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell in 2009 as Cuccinelli received this year. The Chambers of Commerce gave $1 million to Bob McDonnell and $0 to Cuccinelli. In the words of Cuccinelli’s own campaign staff, “we were on our own.” While McAuliffe saturated the airwaves with campaign ads during the final weeks before the election, Cuccinelli barely had enough funds for minimal media exposure.
And yet … Cuccinelli almost won. There was a huge momentum shift away from McAuliffe in the wake of the Obamacare fiasco. Cuccinelli’s message resonated with voters skeptical of Obamacare. McAuliffe’s lead slipped from double digits to too-close-co-call in the final two weeks before the election.
There is a huge lesson to be learned here, and to understand it we need to travel backward in time a decade and examine the takeover of the Democratic Party by the radical anti-war leftists.
After the Iraq invasion, a grassroots movement of young people opposed to the war sprang up across the country. They connected through social media and came together in person at “meet-ups” to discuss strategy. Democrats soon realized that this grassroots opposition to the war could be turned into a powerful political weapon against Republicans. After the Iraq invasion stalled, the vast majority of Democrats who had supported the war abruptly changed their position. The antiwar movement gained momentum and, more importantly, picked up two powerful allies – Howard Dean and Al Gore. And very quickly, the antiwar activists began plotting their first big “establishment” takedown — Senator and former vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman.
At first, Lieberman might have seemed like an odd choice. He still enjoyed strong support from Clinton-era centrist Democrats. And he was considered a top contender when he announced his intention to run for the 2004 President nomination. But Lieberman refused to abandon his hawkish stance on the Iraq war and US military intervention in the Middle East.
When the Democratic party decided to channel anti-war sentiment into political momentum they meant business, and no one was going to stop them. Lieberman’s candidacy floundered, and was finally dealt a fatal blow when Al Gore abandoned him and endorsed Howard Dean for President instead. Lieberman withdrew from the race in February 2004 after failing to win a single primary or caucus on Super Tuesday.
But the offensive didn’t stop there. Lieberman was up for Senate re-election in 2006. He was challenged in the Democratic primary by Ned Lamont, who had a strong backing from antiwar groups and far left Democrats. Lieberman lost the primary to Lamont, and retained his Senate seat only after running as an independent in the general election and garnering support from voters who wished to return an incumbent to the Senate. But his career as a leader within the Democrat party was effectively finished.
The strategy used by the Democrats is pretty clear – identify a strong populist trend, use social media and networking to channel those feelings into political momentum, wholly commit your party in support of those ideals, and eliminate anyone (even a party loyalist) who fails to go along with the program. Admittedly it sounds more like something you’d associate with Ho Chi Minh or Che Guevara, but it works. And ultimately it put Democrats in charge of the White House and both houses of Congress in January 2009.
MoveOn.org infamously declared in December 2004, “Now it’s our Party: we bought it, we own it, and we’re going to take it back.” And take it they did. Along with their antiwar stance, they forced the Democratic party even further to the left by transplanting ideas (critical race theory, modern feminism and gender studies, Marxist economics, gay/lesbian/bisexual/queer studies, etc.) from the progressive intellectualism of academia directly into the center of Democratic Party policy initiatives. Ever wonder why the cultural goalposts suddenly moved all over the place with regard to gay marriage, abortion, racism, etc. after the huge Democratic election victories in 2006 and 2008? Now you know.
Fast-forward to 2010. In the wake of President Obama’s unprecedented spending and debt, the Tea Party movement emerged as a strong conservative middle-class grassroots political movement. The momentum generated by Tea Party rallies helped send over 70 Freshman Republicans to the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterm elections, wrestling majority control away from Democrats. Republicans also won firm control of a majority of state governorships and legislatures.
The Tea Party has obviously zeroed in on two major areas of liberal policy that a significant number of Americans oppose — massive government expansion financed by heavy taxation and government debt, and the poisoning of public discourse by smearing anyone out of sync with their social agenda (Chick-Fil-A restaurants, for example) as homophobes, racists, and haters.
It has enough political momentum and grassroots support to be effectively declared a ‘threat to democracy‘ by the Obama Administration, and targeted for harassment by the IRS. And with the impending destruction of our health insurance system by Obamacare, the Tea Party has the power to tap into America’s dissatisfaction with big government liberalism and help the Republican party take control of Congress in 2014 and the White House in 2016.
So the Republican establishment ought to be poised to harness all of that Tea Party/anti-Obamacare momentum, right? They should be pouring money into grassroots organizing, town hall meetings, and social media. They should be supporting all conservative nominees, especially ones endorsed by the Tea Party. They should be planning to win, just like the Democrats did when they used MoveOn.org’s anti-war momentum to magnify voter dissatisfaction with Republican incumbents and score two huge electoral victories.
I don’t pretend to know what the Republican National Committee is thinking, or what their motivations are. Maybe the establishment Republicans that run the RNC really like being part of The Establishment, and are loathe to give up the perks and financial rewards of being lifetime officeholders. The Tea Party is inherently small government, which would mean much smaller pieces of the Establishment pie for career Republicans. Or maybe Republicans are more interested in just “being there” than in doing whatever it takes to win. Democrats rarely seem to have that particular problem.
Whatever the reasons may be, the evidence is clear. Establishment Republicans are alienating a significant portion of their base by marginalizing the Tea Party. And by essentially opposing their own candidates instead of the Democratic Party, they are throwing away a huge opportunity to capture the votes of dissatisfied moderates and independents and win big during the next two national elections.
Republican leadership could have won the governorship of Virginia, had they chose to fully support a socially conservative candidate who strongly resonated with Tea Party members. Instead, they gave the office to one of the sleaziest figures in contemporary politics. They would be wise not to let that happen again.
On a lighter note, it’s good to be back at WizBang, after a self-imposed hiatus. Anybody out there remember me?