One of the toughest things about running a campaign for office, especially in the 21st century, is that everything you've done or said is likely to end up being scrutinized by media and your opponent. This is especially true if you're a middle-aged or older conservative and don't really understand how the Internet works.
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia's embarrassing uncle, initially appeared to be trying to tack moderate as he launched his gubernatorial campaign. In light of the overall popularity of immigration reform, Cuccinelli joined many Republicans in attempting to moderate his language on immigration in March by scrubbing his issues webpage of any reference to deporting and arresting those law-breaking illegal aliens — "no ifs, ands or buts." It's a remarkably timid retreat from a guy who, just last January, called into WMAL's "The Morning Majority" radio program to lament laws against killing raccoons by comparing them to laws against splitting up undocumented families.
When the scrubbing first hit the news, which kind of defeats the whole purpose of content scrubbing, it seemed like Cuccinelli finally had realized that playing to the base alone wouldn't get him into the Executive Mansion. Two recent revelations, however, indicate that even though Cuccinelli might grasp that on an intellectual level, he more than likely just can't help himself.
Cuccinelli has always been virulently anti-abortion, and last year helped facilitate Gov. Bob McDonnell's petty, unnecessary crackdown on Virginia's abortion clinics by refusing to certify less burdensome regulations. But in a recently unearthed video from 2012, he went full Falwell. Speaking to an event put on by the Family Foundation, the conservative religious lobbying group that's been a key ally, Cuccinelli compared abortion to slavery, saying: "Start right at the beginning, slavery. Today, abortion. You know, history has shown us what the right position was."
This isn't a new analogy for anti-choice activists, of course (although by and large they prefer the Holocaust). But it isn't great messaging when running for chief executive of a purple-to-blue state. He need look no further than McDonnell, whose political future — and recent vice-presidential hopes — were permanently damaged by his support of extreme, unpopular, abortion-related measures. (One conservative Virginia blogger, in defense of Cuccinelli, argued that abortion is far worse than slavery because slaves could try to escape; I somehow doubt Cuccinelli will adopt that line, but there are still seven months before the election.)
More recently, Cuccinelli made the news for the other issue that he seems way more interested in than jobs: homosexuals. Again, Cuccinelli has a history of hostility toward the gay and lesbian community. He first evoked nationwide groans when he insisted that public universities were overreaching their authority by having policies against discrimination based on sexual orientation. In other words, he instructed public universities that they couldn't not discriminate against gays.
In late March, it was reported that Cuccinelli had petitioned a federal court to reverse a ruling that overturned Virginia's crimes-against-nature law, which made anal and oral sex a felony regardless of the age, gender or marital status of those engaged in it. Cuccinelli's office claimed that he supported the ban to prevent the exploitation of minors, but in 2004 he helped kill a bill that would have amended the law to address those concerns. Strictly speaking, all such laws nationwide were struck down 10 years ago in Lawrence v. Texas, but Cuccinelli doesn't appear to know all that much about law.
According to the National Center on Health Statistics, the statute makes criminals of approximately 90 percent of adults between the ages of 25 and 44 in the United States. I suppose that's one way of making it so that your views are shared by the majority of voters. In early April, a federal appeals court unanimously rejected Cuccinelli's petition.
It's one thing to throw red meat to the base while you build up your name. But Cuccinelli's attempt to become a palatable gubernatorial candidate is being undermined by his continuation of the far-right, unpopular policies of his tenure as attorney general, even as he receives the level of scrutiny befitting anyone running for governor. Preaching that the government has no business requiring you to buy health care, and then telling consenting adults what they can and can't do in the bedroom, might bring enough people to your side for a fundraiser, but it'll be a tougher sell for an electoral victory.
A lot could still change. Cuccinelli did win his current office in the first place, after all, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe is hardly a formidable opponent. But when it comes to extremism, it's starting to look like Cuccinelli, far from putting on an act, simply can't help himself. S
Zack Budryk is a freelance writer in Woodbridge.
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