The Broken Truce

Greetings from the scene of a farce. Next week, if the polls are accurate, my state of Virginia will react to the alleged corruption of its sitting governor by electing Terry McAuliffe, an even more corrupt political fixer and “crony capitalist.”

How did this happen?

I really like the Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli, who is the current attorney general. Though he is more religious (and anti-abortion) than I would like, he is also a very staunch small-government Tea Party type. At a big Tea Party rally in DC a few years back, he gave what I thought was the best speech of the day. But Cuccinelli has never won a state-wide election on his own—he came into his current office on the coattails of Governor Bob McDonnell, who was elected in November 2009 on the first early wave of anti-Obama backlash. (Off-year gubernatorial contests mean that it’s always an election year in Virginia. Lucky us.)

So part of the story is that Cuccinelli turns out not be a really effective campaigner. Despite complaints that he is too much of a radical Tea Partier, I have been struck by how bland and anodyne his campaign is. His campaign e-mails talk in vague politician’s boilerplate about his plan to create jobs for Virginians and that sort of thing. You wouldn’t notice that there is any ideological contest going on.

Moreover, Cuccinelli has gone easy on McAuliffe’s history as a corrupt businessman and a crass political operative—the kind of guy who leaves his distraught wife and newborn child in the car while he pops into a Democratic fundraiser, which is an actual story from his own autobiography. But Cuccinelli failed to “define” his opponent early on.

And then there is Cuccinelli’s record as a “social conservative.” I’ve been bombarded with ads recently—on the television and online, as well as in phone messages—reminding me that Cuccinelli is opposed to abortion, as well as some rather dubious and exaggerated claims about Cuccinelli’s stand on contraception and divorce laws. The Democrats knows that Cuccinelli is trailing primarily because he’s losing the female vote by about 20 points—so McAuliffe’s campaign is hammering the abortion issue, which moves votes among young women in Northern Virginia.

One religious conservative complains that Cuccinelli is paying the price for observing the “truce” on “social issues” that has helped draw conservatives and libertarians together under the Tea Party banner. But Cuccinelli has actually been hurt by the libertarians’ violation of this truce. The race would be a lot closer, if not for the 9 to 10 percent of the vote taken up by Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis. As Tim Carney notes, Cuccinelli is one of the most “libertarian” Republican candidates in the country when it comes to economics. Yet libertarians have turned on him.

I asked Sarvis why a libertarian should oppose Cuccinelli, and the first words out of his mouth were “social issues.” [Former Cato Institute president Ed] Crane’s only critique of Cuccinelli when announcing the $300,000 buy for Sarvis: “Ken Cuccinelli is a socially intolerant, hard-right conservative with little respect for civil liberties.”

This reflects a wider problem: the gap between libertarians and the Tea Party movement. Jack Wakeland sent me a report on a poll showing a break between the two groups.

In a surprising finding from one of the most sweeping surveys on the attitudes and beliefs of America’s libertarians, a majority of libertarians—61 percent—said they did not consider themselves part of the tea party movement, according to the annual American Values Survey released Tuesday by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute….

The difference between libertarians and tea partyers appears to boil down to attitudes about religion. Libertarians are about half as likely to see themselves as part of the Christian right movement as those who identify with the tea party, the survey found.

The truce is supposed to go both ways, folks. Cuccinelli has been doing his part, softening his rhetoric on issues like abortion and gay marriage and promising to emphasize an economic agenda, instead. But libertarians still might be about to throw this election to a corrupt big government crony.

There is some small sliver of hope. The latest poll shows the race tightening, and if enough Sarvis voters wise up and decide not to be spoilers next Tuesday, Cuccinelli could just pull it out. Certainly, the launch failure of ObamaCare is a gift for Cuccinelli, who has led the state’s legal challenges to the law and is hitting the issue hard in his last-minute ads. But that one poll is still an outlier, and after a big disappointment in 2012, I’m not waiting for voters to “unskew” themselves.

Oh well, it could be worse. In New York City they’re having what the New York Post accurately describes as a referendum on the city’s amazing transformation over the past 20 years. Unbelievably, the people of New York are preparing to vote “no.” They’re actually poised to elect an unrepentant supporter of Nicaragua’s dictatorial Communist Sandinista regime.

I guess it’s time to take the kids to see New York City while it’s still clean and safe, before it begins its regression back to the chaos of the 1970s.

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