This surprises no one who lives in Northern Virginia — where the anti-Cuccinelli ads are prominent and where women, business people and moderate Republicans are more likely to roll their eyes or respond with utter disdain when asked what they think of Cuccinelli. People who have never in their lives voted against a Republican at the top of the ticket will tell you in essence, “I have my limits.” They use words like “extreme” or even “nut” to describe him. It’s not merely that they won’t vote for him; they in effect want you to know he’s not their kind of governor. (“I’m a conservative, but. . . ” they often begin.)
It will be popular to blame the entire fiasco on Cuccinelli’s campaign. But that is delusional. Sure, Cuccinelli could have shifted positions or declared he was going to forgo social issues off-putting to moderates or come out clearly for the transportation bill — but then he wouldn’t have been the right-wing darling that he is. The problem is not Cuccinelli personally or his campaign more generally; it is that he embodies the traits non-conservatives and some conservatives dislike about the GOP these days. If “he ran a rotten campaign” means “he ran as himself,” well then, yes, it has been a rotten campaign.
If nothing else, voters know Cuccinelli is a rock-ribbed conservative. (If they had any doubt, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is campaigning for him around the state.) That’s currently a bad thing. By a 53 to 36 percent margin, people have a negative view of the tea party, and by a 51 to 30 percent margin they blame the GOP for the shutdown. Libertarians want to claim Cuccinelli as one of their own? There is an actual Libertarian in the race who is happy to point out that on gay marriage, marijuana legalization and favoritism toward big business, he’s the real libertarian. Cuccinelli has never tried to pass himself off as a libertarian because, well, it’s untrue. He’s made a name and won supporters by being a social conservative unwilling to curb his rhetoric.
No, this is a repudiation of the essence of Cuccinelli — the mentality that brought us the government shutdown, that decries fellow Republicans as disloyal for objecting to misguided tactics and that obsesses on social issues and sides with anti-immigrant groups. Rather than blame the Cuccinelli campaign, conservatives should acknowledge his candidacy is the first causality of the Cruz/DeMint shutdown and the revival of the far right. In once-Republican Virginia, that sort of candidate can’t win. Conservative pundits, third-party groups and GOP fundraisers would be wise to wake up and face reality — a double-digit deficit in a swing state means people don’t like what the hard right is offering. Maybe it’s time to stop making excuses for the political antics and approach that will drive the GOP over the cliff unless there is a serious course correction.