A lesson we should learn from the Virginia election

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?

ObamaCare by Morning
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  • Commander_Chico

    Shorter Chico version: nutball Cuccinelli, who couldn’t even support a good public infrastructure project like the rail line to Dulles Airport, got beat by a sleazebag like McAuliffe.

    Cuccinelli joins O’Donnell, Angle, Akin and Mourdock in the list of Tea Party FAIL.

    By FAIL I mean the GOP losing races that they should have won, but for the nutball.

    • jim_m

      Cuccinelli was just a couple of percent behind and had significantly less financial support than the GOP spent on this race 4 years ago. If this is a fail, and I do believe that it is, the failure is on the part of the establishment GOP, who decided that they would rather a dem win the election than a true conservative.

      • Commander_Chico

        Yeah because Tea Party nutballs are bad for business.

        • Walter_Cronanty

          Yeah Chico, nothing is quite as good for business as central planners and crony capitalists writing reams of government regulations.

          • Commander_Chico

            No, business needs some infrastructure like roads, bridges and rail lines.

          • Which they have been known to build for themselves at need.

          • jim_m

            Walter wasn’t referring to infrastructure, which Rodney correctly points out can be built by private parties, he was referring to government planning of business activity. (point of fact that many railroads built their own bridges and tunnels, many bridges are currently maintained by private corporations because government is incapable of do so, for example the Chicago Skyway and Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge),

            Of course you know this so you’d rather try to change the subject and in doing so attempted the lame BS that obama did last year in his idiotic attempt to claim that nothing has ever been done without government assistance. Go back to Cuba.

  • Paul Hooson

    Two simply awful candidates, so a pox on both their houses, yet the results were much closer than they should have been for the socially retarded views of Cuccinelli who made a concentrated effort to seek out the support of the crazy voters, which should have made more GOP moderates sit on their hands than actually did. There didn’t appear to be any antigovernment shutdown backlash from voters against the GOP either, which the Republican establishment can breathe a sigh of relief as well. The GOP did surprisingly well all things considered here, considering being saddled with Cuccinelli’s screwball social vision and the bad publicity from the government shutdown. That’s not a real victory for government that works effectively or values individual rights, but proves that many people will still vote for the GOP even if they find the worst possible candidates to field for office. For Democrats, well, they need to hope that scandal won’t bring their victor down. So, it’s a hollow victory in more ways than one.

    • westcoastwiser

      If you think these candidates are bad, check those in your state, Paul

      • Paul Hooson

        Other than Earl Blumenauer, who is a little bit goofy, Oregon has some pretty competent Democrats and Republicans who are productive and competent statesmen. Many buildings are named after statesmen like Mark Hatfield, Edith Green, Wendall Wyatt, because these Republicans and Democrats were a source of pride to the state. Who are you talking about and why, Westcoastwiser?

  • Pretzel__Logic

    Hey Mike …coincidentally I just decided to click on after drifting away. Nice piece.

  • LiberalNightmare

    56,000 votes.

    A month after the govt shutdown that was billed as an armageddon for republicans in general and the Tea party in particular, an under funded tea party candidate very nearly beat one of the best democratic fundraisers in an election.

    Election results like these scare the democrats as well as the republicans.

  • JWH

    As far as Virginia, I think you’re taking the wrong message. Virginia is not as conservative as it once was, and as time goes on, Northern Virginia (the state’s most liberal region) will grow in population. Any statewide candidate needs to carry a significant portion of Northern Virginia votes, and a “Tea Party candidate” cannot do that.

    • jim_m

      I think the point is that the GOP spent significantly less on this campaign than they did in the last and that is because the GOP didn’t like the candidate. The allegation is that the GOP doesn’t like the candidate because the candidate did not support the establishment, go along to get along, political line.

      Had the GOP spent the money that they did 4 years ago they likely would have won. This is the inverse of conservatives saying that they will stay at home for a RINO candidate, it is the establishment saying that they will not support a conservative candidate and that they would rather lose than allow conservatives a stronger voice within the party.

      • JWH

        Problem, Jim. At a certain point, campaign dollars reach a point of diminishing returns. Do you really think a few million more could have flipped Prince William County? How about Loudoun County? Fairfax County? When a candidate embraces the Tea Party as enthusiastically as Cuccinelli did, he alienates these very liberal counties.*

        Of course … don’t forget that if the Republican establishment poured in money for Cuccinelli, the Democratic establishment would have thrown more money behind McAuliffe. So you could very well have ended up with a null result.

        But here’s another point to chew on: Should the Republican establishment (the RNC and so forth) throw money behind all conservatives? Or should it concentrate on electable Republicans?

        * McDonnell carried all of these counties in 2009. He was pretty conservative himself, but he understood he had to run toward the center if he wanted to win Northern Virginia.

        • jim_m

          Perhaps the DNC would have committed more money. Perhaps the RNC should at least try. What we are getting currently is a self fulfilling prophecy where the RNC says that these candidates are unelectable and then makes that happen by refusing to support them.

          The fact remains that the RNC no longer represents the broader party interests and only the interests of the party hierarchy which is to preserve the status quo and to preserve big government and the graft that flows out from it.

          • JWH

            Did you know Virginia has no limit on campaign contributions? If you think a few million would have helped Cuccinelli get out the vote, you were free to contribute that fundage.

          • jim_m

            Hello??? The RNC did not support his candidacy. With minimal party support he came within a hair’s breadth of winning. It’s not just about the money.

      • westcoastwiser

        It had to be tough as the Democrats were able to put 2 candidates on the ballot by simply changing a party affiliation and having an multi-millionaire fund his campaign.

    • JWH

      One footnote: I live in Virginia. I would have voted for Bill Bolling over Terry McAuliffe. Just something to chew on.

      • westcoastwiser

        I chewed on it and it tasted like s**t!

  • Walter_Cronanty

    Michael, are you the same “Michael Laprarie” [how many could there be?] who commented on this story http://www.propublica.org/article/loyal-obama-supporters-canceled-by-obamacare, wherein you explained one of the more arcane rules of ObamaCare?

    While the story about “loyal Obama” supporters losing their insurance is schadenfreudelicious, the comments are even better, especially given that they appear at a left-wing site like ProPublica. While yours is educational, the vast majority of comments convey a message like Greg D. at 12:36 pm yesterday: “GOOD! You voted for it TWICE! Now eat it!”

  • Lawrence Westlake

    I won’t go so far as to call this a retarded blog post because it isn’t (especially by blog standards), but still it’s tautological, anachronistic and misplaced and not surprisingly it misses giant elephants in the room. First off, at various levels demographically there’s no “lesson” per se that can be learned from this contest, other than axiomatic items of which ironically enough the chattering classes somehow are insouciant. Blacks voted 90-8 for McAuliffe and were one-fifth of the electorate. That’s tough to overcome, whether the contest is a gubernatorial one or a senatorial one or for the presidency. Whites simply are not as race-obsessed in connection with elections. That demographic voted 56-36 for Cuccinelli. To the extent a pure political lesson can be learned from this contest it’s the same lesson the talk radio/RedState/Hot Air demographic for decades hasn’t learned and refuses to learn and is incapable of learning, even if you sat down and explained it to them using a flow chart and a puppet show. Elections are about winning the election. Not about proving points, sending messages, falling on swords, crawling upon glass or beating one’s head against brick walls. You have to win the election. Then you can try to rest upon your principles. Cuccinelli ran too far to the right for Virginia. Virginia is not North Carolina much less Texas or Nebraska. Had Cuccinelli merely done slightly better with self-identified moderates (say 40% instead of the 34% he received) then today he would be governor-elect.

  • westcoastwiser

    The lesson learned is that in Virginia you can run a lying, cheating scumbag crook for office and the Virginians are just dumb enough to vote for their own ilk.