Virginia Is a Microcosm of Establishment Hypocrisy

Virginia Is a Microcosm of Establishment Hypocrisy

By Ben Domenech - July 23, 2013

One of the traits moderate establishment Republicans engage in every election cycle, like clockwork, is the very public excoriation of social conservatives and fiscal conservatives to line up behind a candidate they find less than ideal. This isn’t just limited to the presidential cycle – it happens at all levels. After the primary is over, if the conservatives didn’t get what they want, the Republican establishment (for reference, for the newbies, whenever I use this term I’m not talking about columnists and such, I’m talking about The Money) shift to talk of sore losers amongst the Bible thumpers and those crazy libertarians who expect fealty to lockstep ideology and the like. The truth, of course, is that if the moderates get the short end, they’re equally poor sports about the whole thing. Instead of falling in line for the team, they deliver their message by closing their wallets – or, just as often, giving to Democrats. Where if the establishment gets its way, a candidate ends up well-funded but with a poor grassroots ground game, the reverse happens when a more conservative candidate wins.

There are numerous examples of this historically, but what’s going on in Virginia right now may be the best one yet. As I’ve noted before, Ken Cuccinelli has never been liked by the Northern Virginia business community and pro-choice money mavens like Bobbie Kilberg, and not just because of his conservative temperament. Cuccinelli opposed the transportation tax hike and other cronyist splurges over the past three years, and before that when he was in the legislature, so the resentment isn’t new. But he re-opened old wounds by pushing through an eminent domain amendment last year in defense of property rights which infuriated Virginia’s well-moneyed developers, who had been abusing the Commonwealth’s laws and exploiting local governments to seize private property for their own purposes. Cuccinelli’s amendment passed overwhelmingly, with 76 percent of the vote.

From the beginning of this race, the assumption was that Cuccinelli would never outraise the well-connected Terry McAuliffe, who could lean on the Clinton network to get tons of cash, and for whom the definition of politics is cronyism. The fundraising gap between the two is wider than expected, because the Northern Virginia business community knows that where Cuccinelli won’t wheel and deal with them, McAuliffe absolutely will. (Actual quote from McAuliffe: “You help me. I help you. That's politics.”)

But that’s not what they’re claiming, of course – instead, they’re blaming social issues as the reason they’re not giving. Here’s one example, from a prominent developer. “Mr. Cuccinelli’s very hard stance on some of the social issues is a concern for me,” said Virginia Beach developer Bruce L. Thompson, chief executive officer of Gold Key/PHR Hotels and Resorts, a financial backer of current Republican Governor Bob McDonnell who in May gave McAuliffe $25,000. “I believe personally in a woman’s right to choose, but I also think from an economic development standpoint, we’re trying to attract businesses from other areas of the country, and we’re telling women that we’re going to regulate the way that they run their life? I just don’t think we can be exclusionary when it comes to women” and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, Thompson said.”

Except Cuccinelli is no Todd Akin, as his debate performance showed this week. Rather than talk about social issues on the trail, he’s spent most of his time talking about his tax plan, criminal and regulatory reform, and other economic issues than anything else. The only times Cuccinelli has talked about social issues, as far as I can tell, is in a defensive manner: a whisper campaign on liberal blogs has suggested Cuccinelli is defending Virginia’s “crimes against nature” laws out of anti-gay prejudice. Except Cuccinelli maintains that without that law, about 90 child sex offenders would be able to come off the books – which is one of the reasons McAuliffe is content to leave it as a whisper campaign, since he’d have to take a position on it otherwise. We’ll see how this plays out in the coming debates.

Here’s the problem for Thompson and his ilk: Bob McDonnell, who he backed to the hilt, is no more extreme on social issues – on abortion, on marriage, on religion – than Ken Cuccinelli. For all his fiscal squishiness, McDonnell has been a hardcore pro-lifer in practice, passing rules which have shut down Virginia abortion clinics and taking a hard line against pressure on marriage issues. Indeed, when it comes to their record, one could argue McDonnell has been the most socially conservative governor of the modern era (this is the guy who’s Regent thesis was about wives submitting to their husbands, for crying out loud). The difference is that McDonnell offset this social conservatism with a Boy Scout demeanor and a pro-business wheel-and-deal approach to governance… one which has since landed him in very hot water. And that’s why Cuccinelli is far less attractive to the establishment donors than McAuliffe. It has nothing to do with ideology – it’s because one of them has a price. 

Benjamin Domenech is editor of The Transom. Click here to subscribe.

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