The Divergent Fates of Cuccinelli and Christie: Implications for 2013–and 2016

The 2013 elections taught us a lot, even if many activist conservatives and tea partiers don’t seem interested in learning the lesson—at least not yet.  

In Virginia, the Republican party ran a social conservative, Ken Cuccinelli, who failed to unite his own party.  And so he was defeated by a weak Democrat, Terry McAuliffe, in an election that the GOP should have won.

Indeed, this was the first time since 1973 that Virginia had not elected a governor of the party opposite to the party in the White House. That is, Democrats win Richmond when there’s a Republican president in Washington, DC, and Republicans win Richmond when there’s a Democratic President—or at least they used to.

Yet McAuliffe outraised Cuccinelli by about 2:1, and in addition to that, the independent expenditure money tilted heavily toward McAuliffe. Moreover, as The Washington Post detailed on November 2, Cuccinelli couldn’t tap traditional GOP backers who, just four years before, had supported Republican Bob McDonnell’s candidacy:

Four years ago, McDonnell’s largest single donor other than Republican Party organizations was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent $973,000 on his campaign. This year, the chamber gave Cuccinelli nothing.

And it wasn’t just the Chamber that abandoned Cuccinelli. As the Post further detailed:

Of the 43 donors who contributed $50,000 or more to McDonnell four years ago, 27 made no major gifts to Cuccinelli this year…The 27 missing donors gave a total of $2.3 million in 2009. Most of those contributors gave to Republicans in other races this year. The Virginia Association of Realtors and Premium Distributors of Virginia, one of the state’s largest beer wholesalers, switched sides and gave to McAuliffe.

So one way to view the Virginia results is that the Establishment Republicans abandoned—or, if one prefers, betrayed—Cuccinelli. But another way to view these results is that Cuccinelli simply failed to unite his own coalition. He allowed, for example, the Libertarian Party candidate to carve out a record 6.5 percent of the statewide vote. 

Now of course, in the aftermath of the election, many soldiers of the right are hard at work trying to spin the Cuccinelli defeat into a sort of moral victory. They point out that “Cooch” won independents, he won young voters, and he won the white vote.

They further argue that if Obamacare had rolled out a week earlier than October 1—that is, if the country had seen another week of the healthcare.gov follies—then maybe Cooch would have won.

Obamacare is, for sure, a fiasco. As CBS News’ Bob Schieffer, a liberal, pronounced on the November 3 Face the Nation“I have never seen anything that flopped the way this thing did.”

Yet still, the bottom line is the bottom line. Despite the downdraft of Obamacare, Terry McAuliffe, weak candidate—sleazeball, even—prevailed. And that victory was something of a surprise, even to his friends. As The Washington Post’s snarky liberal columnist Dana Milbank observed,

I’ve known McAuliffe for almost 20 years, and I admire his boundless enthusiasm. But he shouldn’t have a chance in this race. He’s a liberal from New York, a McLean millionaire, a former Democratic National Committee chairman who served as chief moneyman to Bill and Hillary Clinton. A company he led as chairman until last year, GreenTech, is under federal investigations, and he failed to disclose his investment in a Rhode Island insurance scam that used the identities of dying people.

One reason McAuliffe won is that the Democrats have vastly superior campaign technology. The reader might take a look at a Politico article on campaign technology, entitled “How Terry McAuliffe mapped his Virginia win,” and decide if he or she truly thinks that the GOP is keeping up on the tech brain race. (Let’s remember: Democrats put a much greater priority on the technology of campaigning, as opposed to the technology of governing.)

In other words, the lesson of the Virginia election in 2013 seems to be that it was an extension of the presidential election of 2012. That is, the Democrats have put together a new kind of political machine—and it’s a steamroller. This machine consists not only of the Democratic Party and its candidates, however sleazy, but also of key allies, such as the Service Employees International Union, Planned Parenthood, and a host of billionaire-funded environmental groups.

Against this formidable juggernaut, Cuccinelli had a choice: Be more of a centrist, and aim to maximize his vote the low-tech way, or be true to himself—and lose. Yup, Cooch had to choose: pristine purity or grubby victory. He chose pristine purity, also known as defeat.

Meanwhile, up in New Jersey, a much different kind of Republican, Chris Christie, a moderate—or, if one prefers, a RINO—chose grubby victory. He won by a 21-point landslide.

To put things another way, Christie did what he had to do to win in New Jersey. The Garden State is dominated by Democrats; they control both US Senate seats, as well as majorities of the Congressional delegation and both chambers of the legislature. And Jersey has gone Democratic for president in the last six presidential elections; last year, Obama carried its 13 electoral votes by almost 18 points, vastly more than his national average.

So Christie, in a state dominated by Democrats, did the obvious thing: He wooed Democrats. And yes, there was Christie’s warmth to Obama on the eve of the election, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, on October 31, 2012. That together-onstage moment is commonly, albeit incorrectly, remembered as a “hug.” It was actually not a hug but, rather, a handshake and a back-pat—see for yourself.

Meanwhile, in the wake of his landslide victory, Christie offers hope—hope for a Republican presidential victory, for a change, in 2016. To be sure, it won’t be easy for Christie to win the White House; as noted by Virgil here, the GOP has had a hard time cobbling together 270 electoral votes in the last two decades. Indeed, the New Jersey exit polls on Election Day 2013 showed that the dreaded Hillary Clinton defeated Christie in a hypothetical 2016 matchup. Still, the spread was only four points, and that leaves Christie within striking distance. By contrast, Virgil figures that Ted Cruz would lose Jersey by a bigger margin than did Romney.

So while Virgil is not overly optimistic that Christie could beat Hillary, he would make it a relatively close contest—with Christie, it would not be a Goldwater-style crushing of the GOP.

On the other hand, it the nominee were Cruz, instead of Christie, the GOP would risk getting totally blown away, down-ticket. That could mean not only losing the House but also falling below the 40-vote threshold in the Senate, taking away the Republicans’ filibuster power.

Admittedly, it might be hard to mobilize Republicans on the slogan, “Chris Christie: He’ll lose by a narrower margin than Cruz!” And, of course, Virgil is fully aware that many on the right would rather lose in 2016 than see alleged “RINO” Christie win the nomination.

Ah, but just a second here, optimistic activists might be saying to themselves, doesn’t the fiasco of Obamacare suggest that the Democrats will lose? Won’t the healthcare.gov millstone drown the Dems in 2016? Might they still lose no matter who the Republicans run in ‘16?

Perhaps. Yes, if Obama has a few more months like October—the month of the disastrous O-care rollout—the President will indeed be consigned to the lower depths, poll-wise. And if so, not only will the Democrats suffer greatly in the 2014 midterms, but they will also face a significant headwind in 2016.

Still, the Democrats are not without resources.

One resource, for example, there’s the Main Stream Media. A month into the Obamacare debacle, on November 3, The New York Times editorial page attempted to rally the MSM and liberals. Under the headline, “Insurance policies not worth keeping,” the Times would admit only that Obama “misspoke” when he said—about a million times—“if you like the insurance you have, you can keep it.” The Times dismissed the website fiasco as an “overblown controversy,” adding, “people forget how terrible many of the soon-to-be-abandoned policies were.”

So that’s the new party line: It’s no longer about keeping the insurance policy you like, it’s about having the policy that the Times thinks you should have.

And oh, by the way—it’s all the insurance companies’ fault. Soon enough, Obama and the Democrats will be going full-throttle at the insurance companies, and the MSM will be right there to “report” this news.

Let’s also remember that Obama won’t be on the ballot again in 2016—lucky for the Democrats.  The nominee will be, most likely, Mrs. Clinton. And even though her record as Secretary of State was, at best, undistinguished, over the last few years her stock among Democrats has risen. Why? Even loyal Democrats admit that Obama has been a disappointment, so “buyer’s remorse” about the 2008 nomination fight—in which many onetime Clinton supporters bolted for Obama—has set in. Notably, top money Democrats, including ’08 Obama supporter David Geffen and the rest of the Hollywood crowd, are now proclaiming their fealty to Hillary.

In the meantime, we can already see much of the Democratic message. No matter who the GOP nominates, the Democrats will be running against Ted Cruz and his allies. Earlier this month, New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer traveled to Iowa to speak at a party fundraiser; he endorsed Hillary and further declared that Hillary would “vanquish the Ted Cruz, Tea Party Republicans in 2016.”

In other words, the Democrats have their agreed upon bogey-men: Cruz and the Tea Party. The Dems will try to tag any GOPer with the scarlet “X” of Cruz.

Howard Fineman, a veteran MSM-er and reliable liberal tool, now writing for The Huffington Postwas moved to chortle in the wake of the 2013 elections, “The lesson of Virginia is obvious: What the Democrats really need is another Ted Cruz-led crisis.” And if the Dems can’t get such a crisis, they’ll seek to make one.

Some Republicans might say, in response, “If we’re going to be blamed for being Cruz, we might as well be running Cruz. We’re going to lose anyway.”

That’s an intellectually honest, if fatalistic, argument. But there is another alternative: Winning. Yet for reasons noted in the previous installment—that is, the deep electoral-college hole that the GOP has fallen into—the pursuit of that winning strategy will require more than just nominating Christie.

So what will it take? We’ll get to that in the next installment.


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