By Rick Manning
National political pundits are busily fluffing up the narrative that the 2013 gubernatorial election has made New Jersey Governor Chris Christie the front runner for the Republican nod for president in 2016, while the narrow loss by conservative Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia governor’s race spells the beginning of the end for the conservative movement.
The Washington Times writes in its coverage of the New Jersey Governor’s race that the decision by Democrats to not put up a credible challenge to incumbent Chris Christie, “… helped to clear the path for Mr. Christie to drive up his margin of victory in the governor’s race, which political observers and Republican insiders said would send a message that the national party can broaden its appeal and bolster its brand without tacking to the tea party right.
They are wrong for at least three reasons. Two of these are tactical and one is strategic.
New Jersey Governor Christie dramatically increased his own electability during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy when just prior to the 2012 presidential election, he went out of his way to embrace President Obama, earning support within the state, and enmity from Republicans around the country. Few outside of New Jersey will forget the damage Christie’s hug did to the Party’s chances to defeat Obama.
The result is that the very same event that helped propel Christie’s in-state popularity will be disastrous for him outside the state.
On the other hand, the Virginia governor’s race was decided by 2.5 percent with Democrat Terry McAuliffe receiving well under a majority of the votes after significantly outspending Republican Cuccinelli. Two campaign tricks tipped the scales to McAuliffe and each were worthy of his sleazy reputation.
A major Obama fundraiser/cash bundler was discovered in the last days of the campaign to have been the primary funder of the third party “Libertarian” candidate revealing that he was nothing more than a shill put up by the left to siphon votes from the other economic freedom candidate in the race – Cuccinelli. The third party candidate libertarian poser received more than 6 percent of the total vote.
The second dirty trick engaged in by McAuliffe was a robocall perpetrated by the Virginia Democratic Party to conservative voters alleging that Cuccinelli supported Obamacare. This admission of the unpopularity of Obama’s signature achievement was an overt lie, as Cuccinelli was the first Attorney General in the nation to challenge Obamacare in court. The tactic was designed to suppress likely Cuccinelli voters who opposed the law, but were so disgusted by Republican cave-ins in D.C. that they were susceptible to this type of attack.
Thirty years ago, in one of my first political campaigns I was taught a truism that no longer is valid. After I got done complaining about how we were being unfairly treated in the media, my boss answered, “They have the media and we have the money, our job is to spend that money effectively so we can beat their free media advantage.”
In the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Democrat had the media, an approximate two to one spending advantage and the help of a third very important group – the institutional Republicans who continually bad mouthed the conservative candidate and sat on their collective thumbs hoping Cuccinelli would lose so they could declare that only a moderate could win.
The 2.5 percent loss proves that these Republicans who always try to foist “electable” candidates who stand for nothing in primaries would rather deny a conservative victory than have their narrative be proven wrong. If anything the fact that Ken Cuccinelli barely lost after being pilloried in the media without the resources to make his case is an affirmation that conservative principles are winners when people hear them articulated.
Unlike in New Jersey where the Republican moderate dominated his opponent in campaign cash, and the Democrats chose not to run a campaign against him, Cuccinelli was literally starved of funds and support by the Republican chattering class. The Republican National Committee whose sole purpose is to elect Republican candidates failed to produce anywhere near the nine million dollars they pumped into Virginia four years earlier — it was just $3 million this time — in one of the most obvious acts of “friendly fire” campaign sabotage.
Strategically this has major implications for these professional Republican operatives who have already publicly declared war on their Party’s political base.
The Virginia race strips away almost any reason why conservatives should not look toward a third party in 2016, as the national Republicans attempt to foist another “candidate who can win” down their throats.
Politically, this puts the Republican ruling class in deep trouble. If someone like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin were to run as a third party alternative to a Christie-type, it is difficult to find a single state that Christie or someone of his ilk would carry. And it is relatively easy to identify at least twenty states where a third party Palin would likely be favored over both Christie and a Democrat opponent.
Sometimes you can win a battle but lose the war, in the next couple of year’s establishment Republicans may just find themselves wishing they had gone all-in for the conservative in Virginia, as Ken Cuccinelli could become the symbol of the one way relationship they expect from their much despised political base.
If given a choice, that base just might figure out that they never actually needed the Republican Party bosses after all. When that happens, the Republican Party will go the way of the Whigs and a new, populist, limited government party will take its place.
Sidebar: Colorado tax increase vote
Bill Gates put in one million dollars, Michael Bloomberg threw in another one million. In fact, more than ten million dollars was spent in the state of Colorado trying to convince voters to increase state taxes by a billion dollars under the guise of increasing education funding. Opponents to the tax increase spent well under one million dollars. In fact, the political committee founded to oppose Amendment 66 only raised and spent $11,000. That’s right, $10,000,000.00 against $11,000.00.
The result in what many consider to be a newly blue state?
The tax increase lost by an almost 2 to 1 margin.
Penn Pfiffner, chairman of Kids Before Unions, in an exclusive post-election interview with Americans for Limited Government asserted, “The voters saw through this very extreme and unwise measure.” The jubilant Pfiffner continued saying, “Clearly Colorado voters took a very common sense approach toward balancing government funding and family budgets.”
For all those seeking to find hope in the 2013 elections, know that in Virginia, the Democrats had to falsely claim that the conservative nominee supported Obamacare to secure a meager 2.5 percent victory, and in Colorado, limited government/low tax advocates stood victorious against seemingly insurmountable odds.
Not exactly the liberal referendum that many in D.C. want to make it.
Rick Manning (@rmanning957) is the vice president of public policy and communications for Americans for Limited Government.