The Republican Establishment Returns to Life in Virginia

Marc Fisher and Laura Vozella have penned an intriguing extended piece on the problems faced by Tea Party candidate Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia Governor’s race. Key figures in the Republican Establishment refused to give him any money.

Four years ago, [Bob] 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 pulled back.

Of the 43 donors who contributed $50,000 or more to McDonnell four years ago, 27 made no major gifts to Cuccinelli this year.

Fisher and Vozella’s reporting shows that mainline Republicans withheld their checks because of Cuccinelli’s denial of climate change, support of mandatory vaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions and hostility to the Violence Against Women Act. That shortfall of money put Cuccinelli in difficulty even before the federal government shutdown over defunding Obamacare (another of his signature causes), exerted outsized impact in Northern Virginia.

In the best of all possible worlds, Virginia would be a harbinger of the Republican Establishment splitting from the Tea Party in a meaningful way (i.e., by withholding money, not just making modest verbal criticisms). If this pattern is replicated around the country, it would be good for the republic: The country needs a healthy, realistic Republican Party.

But before anyone celebrates a return to adult supervision within the GOP, remember that in a low turnout election, anything can happen. If Cuccinelli pulls off an upset win, this “show of force” by the Establishment will look laughable in retrospect. Also, the fact that the Democratic candidate in this particular contest is very close to Hillary Clinton, who may well be the next President, might have made Republican businessmen more comfortable jumping ship than they will be in other races to come around the U.S.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

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Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.