Asymmetric Polarization in Action in the Old Dominion

In his frantic bid to save a struggling gubernatorial campaign in Virginia, Republican nominee Ken Cuccinelli has two strategies: get the “conservative base” whipped up into a sufficient frenzy to turn out in disproportionate numbers, and reduce the diversion of votes to Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis, who’s been running in the high single-digits in most polls.

So naturally, Cooch has brought in Ron Paul, who presumably can help promote both strategies, to thump the tubs for him at the very last minute. Indeed, Paul headlined the climactic rally in Richmond last night. But per this report from Politico‘s James Hohmann, the Cuccinelli campaign may have gotten more Ron Paul rhetoric than they bargained for. Paul’s big eye-raiser was a shout-out to a well-known Virginia icon:

“Jefferson obviously was a clear leader on the principle of nullification,” the former Texas congressman said of the third president. “I’ve been working on the assumption that nullification is going to come. It’s going to be a de facto nullification. It’s ugly, but pretty soon things are going to get so bad that we’re just going to ignore the feds and live our own lives in our own states.”

“Nullification” is a loaded word, still brimming with connotations here in what was once the capital of the Confederacy. But it might not even have been the most provocative comment the 78-year-old made in a somewhat disjointed half-hour speech in the Richmond Convention Center….

He tore into the Constitution’s 17th Amendment. Ratified in 1913, it’s the one that allows for the direct election of U.S. senators by popular vote.

“That undermined the principle importance of the states,” said Paul.

He criticized the 16th Amendment, which allowed the federal income tax.
After the crowd chanted “End the Fed,” Paul decried the printing of more money by the Federal Reserve.

“We need someone to stand up to the authoritarians,” he said. “They’re dictators.”

In the same breath, Paul criticized George W. Bush for growing government and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) for supporting National Security Agency intelligence collection.

He stressed that the constitutional “right to keep and bear arms” was not for hunting, but to allow rebellion against tyrannical governments.

I don’t know that a whole lot of putative Sarvis voters–mostly just folk unhappy with the choice of Cuccinelli and Terry McAuliffe–are the kind of people who want a full return to the early 19th century, and/or are stockpiling shooting irons in case they decide it’s time for another armed rebellion against the U.S. government. Most of those folk are probably on the Cooch bandwagon already, or won’t vote because they’re too busy collecting gold coins and assault weapons.

But at the risk of sounding like a broken record: can you imagine a statewide Democratic candidate anywhere, much less in a “purple state,” associating himself or herself so conspicuously with such ravings? No, you can’t. If you want a fresh example of what “asymmetric polarization” is all about, just consider that this is how the Republican Party of Virginia chose to conclude a statewide campaign.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.