The finger-pointing in the GOP over Republican Ken Cuccinelli’s narrow loss to Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia governor’s race shows that the party still refuses to come to grips with internal contradictions that continue to lead to "epic fail" at the ballot box.
McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee chair and Clinton operative, squeaked to victory with 47.7 percent of the votes to Virginia Attorney General Cuccinelli’s 45.3 percent. Libertarian Robert Sarvis earned 6.5 percent. Many Republicans blame the Libertarian for pulling votes away from Cuccinelli. But “libertarian” with a small “l” is not a problem; rather, it is the solution.
Cuccinelli lost it
Let’s begin with the obvious: the election was a loss for Cuccinelli rather than a positive win for McAuliffe. A Washington Post survey in the week before the election found that some 64 percent who planned to support the Democrat said they were voting against Cuccinelli rather than for McAuliffe.
Both candidates went into the race wearing some sleaze. McAuliffe had shady, crony capitalist business dealings, including his chairmanship of the scandal-ridden GreenTech car company. Cuccinelli was caught up in irregularities surrounding campaign contributions from Star Science.
Cuccinelli no doubt lost the votes of many federal workers in Northern Virginia because of the government shutdown; exit polls showed 49 percent of voters blaming the GOP compared to 43 percent blaming Obama. But what cut McAuliffe’s substantial lead and almost cost him the election was the Obamacare fiasco, which Cuccinelli strongly opposed. And yes, there were state issues that divided Cuccinelli and McAuliffe such as whether the government should spend more on highways using increased taxes.
Social conservative poison
But the negatives that Cuccinelli could not overcome were his extreme declarations in support of his social conservative agenda. He wanted to change the law in a way that would eliminate abortion and, perhaps, open a road to banning certain forms of birth control. He wanted to keep Virginia’s anti-sodomy law, which had been ruled unconstitutional, arguing that it was needed to protect children from molesters. It wasn’t, but it could allow the government to persecute gays. Needless to say, Cuccinelli wanted government to continue to bar marriage between same-sex couples.
So in the months before the election the Democrats simply ran ads publicizing Cuccinelli’s social agenda and watched him founder in the polls. The results: Election Day exit polls found women favored McAuliffe 51 percent against 42 percent for Cuccinelli, with 67 percent of single women supporting the Democrat but only 25 percent voting for the Republican.
Calling all Libertarians
Trailing in the weeks before the election, the Cuccinelli camp appealed to backers of Sarvis, the Libertarian, to switch to the Republican candidate. The argument was that McAuliffe would be far worse on tax-and-spending policies and much else compared to Cuccinelli. With McAuliffe now heading for Richmond, we’ll probably see that this argument was true. Oh, and the state will likely go all-in on Obamacare.
Exit polls suggest that Cuccinelli would have lost without Sarvis in the race. But in any case, Cuccinelli should have thought of this during the years he was currying favor with social conservatives. He should have pictured himself running for governor and imagining how he’d have to downplay his attempts to limit personal liberty in order to reach libertarians, mainstream women, independents, and many others.
Establishment Republicans, those who want to preserve the welfare state but just make it work a little better, will declare that the lesson of Cuccinelli’s loss is that the GOP should nominate moderates. Really? Like Mitt Romney? Establishment Republicans are part of the problem as well, and that problem is that neither faction offers a consistent pro-liberty message and makes that message the top priority.
A future of freedom
The GOP needs to follow a third path, essentially that of Goldwater and Reagan, the libertarian, pro-liberty path. Social conservative Republicans need to get their priorities straight. They will certainly fail in the short-run to realize their social agenda. But they will succeed in alienating voters, thus helping to usher in Obama-style statism on steroids that will continue to restrict their personal autonomy. Wait until the statists go after home schooling! And establishment Republicans must realize that they are, at best, simply slowing the country’s decline while muddying the distinction between themselves and self-styled “moderate” Democrats.
\While the Libertarian Party provides an alternative for pro-liberty Americans disgusted with both Republicans and Democrats, it doesn’t win state-wide or national elections. But if social conservative and establishment Republicans understand just how perilous the country’s situation is, if they make the restoration of liberty Job One, and if they unite with libertarians and lovers of liberty of all stripes, they can save freedom for themselves and their posterity.
Hudgins is director of advocacy and a senior scholar at The Atlas Society.
For further information:
*Edward Hudgins, “ GOP Should Invite Social Conservative Extremists to Leave. ” April 5, 2013.
*Edward Hudgins, “ Republicans Help Virginia Evolve to Democrats. ” June 12, 2013.
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.