March 19, 2013

VIRGINIA ATTORNEY General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) casts himself as a no-apologies conservative. But when it comes to his campaign for governor, Mr. Cuccinelli isn’t beyond a little airbrushing.

As recently as November, Mr. Cuccinelli’s campaign Web site boasted of his uncompromising positions on illegal immigration, including opposing tuition subsidies for undocumented students (even if they grew up in Virginia), firing state contractors who employ illegal immigrants and stepping up deportations and employment verification.

But clicking Tuesday on a link to the campaign site’s immigration policy page brought up the following: “This is somewhat embarrassing, isn’t it? It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for.”

More likely, Mr. Cuccinelli’s views on the issue, suddenly out of sync with the GOP’s swiftly shifting stance, are no longer politically suitable.

As it happens, his record on immigration, as state senator and attorney general, is extensive.

As a lawmaker in 2008, Mr. Cuccinelli was chief sponsor of a bill urging a Constitution rewrite to strip the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants of their right to citizenship. He authored legislation that would have denied jobless benefits to certain employees for not speaking English. He pushed through a bill that allowed localities to investigate and punish crowded boardinghouses, which he called “one of the most common side effects of illegal immigration.”

As attorney general, he has embraced Arizona-style policies that authorize police to check the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest. He has also opposed comprehensive immigration reform, or what he calls amnesty for undocumented immigrants, whose presence in the labor market, he believes, has diminished the nation’s standard of living.

Terry McAuliffe, Mr. Cuccinelli’s likely Democratic opponent for governor this fall, shifted on immigration a few years ago. In 2007, he favored shutting the borders because, he said, illegal immigrants were “taking our jobs.” Two years later, as a candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, he said Virginia should offer immigrants “an inviting environment.”

So far as we’ve seen, Mr. Cuccinelli hasn’t shifted his position; 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. Mr. Cuccinelli is hardly the first politician to moderate his views while running for higher office, nor even the first to opt for expedience. What sets him apart on immigration, however, is not only the extremity of his thinking compared to the electorate’s, but also how quickly he’s become marginalized within the Republican Party. That’s inconvenient for Mr. Cuccinelli, but there’s no airbrushing it away.