Cuccinelli starts fires everywhere he goes. He certainly does not have a reputation as a problem solver. After his bungled bid for governor of Virginia in 2013, Cuccinelli went on to be a sour presence in Republican circles until Trump began to publicly muse about making him immigration ‘czar’ this spring.
There are a few reasons for which the usually accommodating Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), has been so matter-of-fact in his opposition to Cuccinelli. The first of these has to do with process: To have even a small chance at passing any immigration legislation, the executive branch, Republican congressional leaders and, dare I say, a few Democrats will have to move in perfect synchronization and with minimal friction. But “minimal friction” has never been a term associated with Ken Cuccinelli.
As the fight over funding for the border wall has shown, even good old-fashioned Washington give-and-take is not what it used to be. Yet the stakes are higher now precisely because Trump was right when he said there was a crisis at the border: Illegal immigration is surging, if last month’s record-setting 144,000 apprehensions of undocumented immigrants crossing the southern border is any indication. With numbers like these, Trump does not need as his point man a seething hard-liner who will be instantly vilified. Instead, he needs a steady, respected operator.
There is another reason that Cuccinelli is such a lightning rod, and it is purely political. As head of the Conservative Victory Fund, Cuccinelli used to do what the Club for Growth is doing now — recruiting and funding firebrand conservatives to primary Republican incumbents. In practical terms, it means he comes with a ton of political baggage that makes laughable any suggestion of him ever being confirmed by the Senate.
I have always thought that Trump should abandon his disdain for the #NeverTrumpers, but supporting Cuccinelli is not a good place to start. Let’s remember that, in the summer of 2016, Cuccinelli was a staunch supporter of Sen. Ted Cruz, right up until the bitter end. He even led a floor fight at that year’s Republican convention to block Trump’s nomination. Again, Cuccinelli’s instincts were all wrong and his execution was clumsy. For Trump to appoint Cuccinelli now, especially for such a high-profile role, is a bewildering point at which to finally show magnanimity, and it will probably end badly.
To be clear, I long ago gave up trying to make sense of the president and the decisions he makes. But Cuccinelli’s appointment has no apparent upside — neither practical nor political. He is the wrong man at the wrong time. To solve the border crisis, Trump needs a mature bureaucratic black belt — not an erratic, angry political has-been such as Ken Cuccinelli.