October 4, 2013

We invite you to come and listen to Ted Cruz . . . and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, and to be among the more than 1,000 politically-active conservative Virginians. Come be inspired and meet like-minded Virginians who share your traditional values, and hear one of the conservative movement’s most significant national leaders, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz.

SO READS the invitation on the Web site of the Family Foundation, the gay-bashing, abortion-hating, home-school-loving group whose annual gala dinner will be held Saturday night in Richmond. If the event serves as a sort of homecoming for Virginia conservatives, Mr. Cruz is this year’s homecoming king. That has left Mr. Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, squirming.

Mr. Cuccinelli has spent the campaign walking a fine line between the rock of Virginia’s purple-state moderation and the hard place of his unstinting conservatism. As the first attorney general in the country to file suit challenging Obamacare, he is a hero to the tea party. But to align himself with like-minded Republicans, who have pushed Congress to its current impasse, risks infuriating everyday Virginians, to say nothing of the state’s 170,000 federal civilian employees, who dislike the government shutdown much more than the health-care law.

That’s why Mr. Cruz, the architect of the current showdown in Congress and the tea party’s champion, is a problem for Mr. Cuccinelli. A bear hug will alienate swing voters. The cold shoulder will incite tea partyers. Perhaps Mr. Cuccinelli will try for a warm but brief handshake.

Mr. Cuccinelli has tried, unconvincingly, to split the difference, and his handlers have been at pains to emphasize that the Family Foundation dinner is not a campaign event. He continues to heap scorn on the health-care law, while suggesting, sotto voce, that he opposes the shutdown. “I’d like to see Obamacare pulled out of federal law,” said Mr. Cuccinelli. “But, you know, we’ve got to keep moving forward and make compromises to get the budget going.”

Mr. Cuccinelli’s rabble-rousing running mate, E.W. Jackson, the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, has tried to navigate a similar course, insisting that a video clip of him chanting, “Cut it or shut it,” at a tea party rally in Washington two years ago was a mere aberration. (Pay no attention to the man in the footage!)

We suspect that if Mr. Cuccinelli or Mr. Jackson were in the Senate, rather than on the statewide ballot this year, they would have no trouble siding with Mr. Cruz and the other conservative absolutists who have forced the government to its knees. There is very little in either man’s background to suggest they’d embrace pragmatism over what they regard as principle.

By contrast, Virginia has benefited from statewide elected officials who have tended to govern from the middle, whatever their ideological preferences.