Ken Cuccinelli
Ken Cuccinelli in his 2009 race for attorney general (Gerald Martineau / The Washington Post)

The Post editorial board has caught Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli scrubbing his Web site of right-wingy extremist positions on immigration and other issues:

So far as we’ve seen, Mr. Cuccinelli hasn’t shifted his position [on immigration] ; he’s just removed it from public view.

This didn’t stop with immigration. In the past few months, the Cuccinelli campaign has also removed from its Web site pages laying out the candidate’s views on abortion (he’s against it) and gun rights (he’s for them), among other things.

We shouldn’t be over-confident that those positions are going to get moderated or watered down. Cuccinelli could conceivably beef up and embellish upon his existing views. His campaign keeps telling us he will roll out policies between April and June, so we’ll find out then whether he is sprucing up or remodeling his policy pronouncements on such issues.

More important is the question as to whether we shouldn’t commend pols when they move in the direction we like. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) embrace gay marriage. Good thing, right? (And let’s not forget the bouquets thrown at the president for reversing his opposition to gay marriage, a position no one really thought he held.) Republicans are engaging on immigration reform, and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) is coming out in favor of a more robust policy in Syria. All positive things in my book.

It seems change, reversal and modification are the norm these days, except for the House and Senate Democrats who churn out the same dreary, far-fetched budgets that spend like there is no tomorrow.

I personally like it when pols, for whatever reason, move my way. Maybe it is insincere (as if we should be surprised by insincerity among politicians) or poll-driven, or maybe it is heartfelt and derived from experience. That said, we should be skeptical of a pol’s attachment to new ideas absent some explanation for the transformation and evidence that he or she intends to stick with Position 2.0 on a given issue. Pro-Israel conservatives never bought the I’m-a-Zionist routine from then-candidate Barack Obama in 2008; it turns out that skepticism was more than warranted.

I doubt we are going to see Cuccinelli moderate all that much on abortion, immigration or gay rights. His identification with the right wing of the GOP is too strong on these topics to sweep all of that history aside. But it is very possible he’ll try to refocus himself on education, tax reform, transportation and energy, with a nod to the concerns of actual voters. This is good for him and for the electorate.

The question remains, however, whether his past identification with hot-button issues will come back to bite him among women voters and with moderates in voter-rich Northern Virginia. He better be able to explain his views in ways that don’t rattle his base — he’ll need every vote from conservatives he can get to make up for losses among women and other groups — but that give reassurance to moderate voters. His best bet may be to state simply, “We have got all the laws we need in the state on [fill in the blank with abortion, immigration, etc.] ; I’m going to enforce what is on the books.”

Is that going to satisfy everyone (anyone)? We will see. More important is whether Cuccinelli can produce a compelling agenda on issues that voters care most about. Will he try to rip up Gov. Bob McDonnell’s historic achievement on transportation? Is there really much to do on education after this most recent round of reforms? How would he deal with unemployment from defense sequestration? It is with these issues that I suspect the gubernatorial race will be decided.

As for immigration and gay rights, I will quote that great philosopher: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.