The Republican Establishment Returns to Life in Virginia

The Virginia Governor’s race has encouraging signs that the Republican Establishment wants its party back

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.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

17 thoughts on “The Republican Establishment Returns to Life in Virginia”

  1. And this is why the Tea party laughs when the party establishment demands they support any establishment candidate who gets the nomination. Because the establishment has made it clear that anybody but an establishment candidate is going to be on their own, best case scenario, and quite possibly actively attacked.

    We won’t have a healthy Republican party until the existing GOP establishment have been destroyed, root and branch.

    1. That depends. If you’re going to hand it over to guys like Cuccinelli, you’re just changing lethal diseases.

      1. The bottom line for whether a political party is “healthy” can not be drawn by the opposing party. The Democratic party’s notion of a healthy Republican party is one which will be content to be in the minority, and never oppose anything Democrats want.

        That’s the Republican establishment, alright, and that’s why Republicans themselves are trying to oust it.

        1. I can’t speak for the Democratic party. My idea of a healthy Republican Party is one that won’t be a threat to wreck everything when it is in power, as will inevitably happen from time to time no matter how nuts they are.

        2. You ought to give Keith more credit. A more cynical partisan such as myself might have said the opposite: that what this country needs is for the Republican party to do just as you say, embracing an extreme base that average Americans will never tolerate, and become irrelevant.

          Instead, Keith takes the gracious view that an opposition should be healthy, and inclusive of its most reasonable members. Contrary to your notion that the establishment “never oppose anything Democrats want,” I think its the opposite – the establishment opposes plenty, while it is the Tea Party that *opposes every single thing* the Democrats want, and naively abhors compromise, the bedrock of democracy.

          1. I’m really hoping the endpoint is a realignment with 3 parties as in most
            European countries: a moderate-left Social Democrat party for progressives,
            a business-friendly but responsible party made up of Blue Dogs and RINOs,
            and a noisy Tea Party/theocrat/nativist National Front.

            On the one hand, for that to happen, the RINOs would need to grow some vertebrae;
            on the other hand, the big-business donors would love the Blue Dog/RINO party.

            Anyhow, the good news in the short term is that if there’s a wedge between
            big donmors and Tea Party candidates, 2014 and 2016 should go well for Dems.

          1. I suppose that’s possible, if the Democratic party were to become sufficiently dysfunctional, say by being dominated by “progressives”.

            No, what I’m saying is that the Republican party establishment is currently working, and has been for some time, to keep the GOP unrepresentative of it’s own base. Doing this, because the party establishment isn’t representative of that base. A functioning GOP would be representative of GOP voters, who are different in different places, so it would not be dominated by any faction. The Tea party is never going to be electing many people in Massachusetts. But if the GOP establishment weren’t working against it’s own base, the Tea party would be a much larger part of it.

            And, much less to your liking. The GOP is the Democratic party’s opposition, if you like what’s going on in the GOP, then almost by definition there’s going to be something seriously wrong with the GOP.

    2. Go for it, Brett. Kill off all those RINOs with their Kenyan communist
      ideas about actually governing, and not having people starving in the streets,
      and compromising when necessary. Build yourself a healthy party of the Republican
      “base”, unified in its desire to cut taxes (except on the poor) and cut spending
      (except on the military and Medicare and Social Security for current recipients,
      i.e. all the big-ticket items).

      It will be united and noisy and ugly, and just about the right size to be
      drowned in the bathtub.

  2. Cooch is extreme and has run a clumsy campaign. Terry Mac is widely disdained as a greasy little fixer, and made money off dying people and electric car subsidies for a glorified golf cart/investor visa factory. So, each has been wildly fortunate in his opponent. Each has been struck by lightning not of his own making – the shutdown hurt Cooch a lot, and Terry Mac is suddenly looking at the disaster which is the Obamacare rollout. Very hard to tease out any national lessons from this thing. I’m voting for Sarvis, myself.

    1. I’m voting for Sarvis, myself.

      Ah yes. The best of both worlds: A greasy little libertarian extremist.

  3. If a man sets a vicious dog on me, I don’t blame the dog, I blame the man. Destroying the vicious dog doesn’t earn him forgiveness.

    It would be a great mistake for Democrats to help create a narrative about a newly “healthy” and “realistic” Republican Party. They proved themselves unfit to govern, so let them be permanently excluded from government and never taken seriously again.

  4. What’s so hard to understand? The WaPo article lays it out clearly. Given how “Cooch” has violated the rights of women and minorities as if he were truly entitled to do so, why would anybody expect that they would support him now let alone send him flowers. In another context the withholding of campaign funds would be called “tough love.” That is, at some point you’ve got to understand that if you’re going to continue to behave in ways that offends your neighbors you’re going to have take the consequences. A kind of practical application of the maxim, “Your rights end where the other person’s nose begins.” What’s sad for me is that it had to get to this point before anyone began to really pay attention. We’ve all been holding our noses and walking away from the bad smell for too long.

  5. I think that Keith is being a bit too optimistic. If Cooch looked like a plausible winner, does anybody think that the Chamber of Commerce would have withheld the money? The 1% might not like the Talibans, but the George Zimmermans aren’t blowing people away in their neighborhoods. Their children are learning real science. They don’t need social services. Their daughters can get an abortion no matter the local rules.

    1. We’ve done this experiment. In 1996, the Republicans (from, admittedly, an eight-way primary battle) nominated for the solemn office of Governor of Washington State one Ellen Craswell, an utter loon distinguished by her repeated dalliances with the Christian Identity movement, and other even worse groups (especially after 1996). This was a woman so consumed with extreme and fringe religiosity that she said that she became a Christian when her husband saw a 40-foot-tall Jesus by the side of the road, and was confirmed in her beliefs when Jesus cured her cancer (it later killed her; bad Jesus!). She promised an administration of “Wise And Godly People”; hilariously, when attacked on this point she conceded that the officials of her administration had to be wise or godly. She proposed selling off the state’s universities (including what was at least at the time the biggest public research university in the country, and a medical school that served a vital function for four northwestern states) – but had no idea who might be interested in buying them, nor for how much. She said that state taxes should be cut by 1/3, and that she would exempt from cuts law enforcement and education – which turned out to be 2/3 of the stat budget! And I’e left out a lot of her crazier opinions and statements, of both the secular and the religious varieties.

      In short, she was deeply unserious lunatic-fringe god-bothering whackjob. And this in an era with a far more moderate GOP, and with the New Democrats in the ascendant and eager to reach across the aisle to deregulate Wall Street, pass NAFTA, and “end Welfare as we know it”. There was no existential panic on the Right as there was after the world economy took a bath and a Black man moved into the White House; there was no great need for the Institutional Right to hold their noses and back Craswell. And yet, they did so – and she won more than 40% of the vote in the General, and had the endorsement and the backing of all the usual groups of the Institutional Right.

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