Virginia’s Tea Party debacle

Will the impending defeat of Ken Cuccinelli shake the GOP out of its radical right-wing stupor?

Topics: Ken Cuccinelli, Chris Christie, Terry McAuliffe, Tea Party, Virginia, New Jersey, The Daily Beast, The New York Times, Jamelle Bouie, Republican Party, GOP,

Virginia's Tea Party debacle (Credit: AP)

Terry McAuliffe is no one’s idea of a dream candidate. He’s never held elected office before, and the experience he does have in high-stakes politics is as a prolific fundraiser — a past vocation that plays about as well in politics as being a former agent of the IRS. In an era when more Americans than ever identify as independents, so disgusted are they with both major parties, McAuliffe is what the New York Times called the “ultimate party insider,” a creature of the Beltway who spends his time currying favor from the moneyed and powerful on behalf of the powerful and soon-to-be moneyed. Add to this the fact that McAuliffe might be the worst husband in politics since Newt Gingrich, and what you’re left with is very much not the profile of a winner.

Yet by every indication, in less than a week, Terry McAuliffe will be elected the governor of Virginia, one of the largest and most important states in the union. And it won’t be close.

McAuliffe’s impending victory has relatively little to do with the man himself. It’s his opponent, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who deserves Democrats’ credit and Republicans’ blame. McAuliffe and his campaign team have done a masterful job, in fact, of shifting the focus away from their profoundly flawed candidate and onto his opponent. McAuliffe may be bad — really, really bad — but as far as Virginians are concerned, Cuccinelli is even worse. A recent poll showed nearly two-thirds of McAuliffe supporters say they’re voting against Cuccinelli rather than for McAuliffe. As one independent McAuliffe supporter told the Daily Beast’s Jamelle Bouie, “I don’t know a lot about McAuliffe, but I do know a lot about Cuccinelli, and I don’t want him to win.”

What this voter knows about Cuccinelli, no doubt with much assistance from the McAuliffe campaign, is that the attorney general is one of the most hardcore conservatives in the Republican Party today. He was one of the first AGs to sue over Obamacare, is a strident opponent of immigration reform, opposes tax increases in nearly every circumstance, and most consequential of all, has distinguished himself as a rabid culture warrior when it comes to issues of gay equality and reproductive rights. His longtime association with the Tea Party certainly doesn’t help, either — especially after a government shutdown that disproportionately harmed Virginians (many of whom are government workers) and was widely seen as the Tea Party’s doing. To put it simply, Cuccinelli is the kind of candidate only a conservative true believer could love.

That Cuccinelli was nominated at all is a testament to just how rightward the Virginia GOP has lurched. But it was predictable, too. After two straight presidential elections in which the Republican candidate lost, only to be swiftly disowned by a party base that insisted he was not conservative enough, the appeal of nominating a “true” conservative like Cuccinelli must have been overwhelming. Virginia’s nomination process is through a convention rather than a primary, too, giving the most motivated and conservative activists even further leverage. In short, Virginia’s conservatives got what they wanted. And they’ll lose for it.

It’s hard not to contrast Cuccinelli’s impending defeat with another Republican gubernatorial aspirant who resides just a few states northward. Chris Christie, New Jersey’s boisterous and pugnacious Republican governor, is cruising to reelection in one of the nation’s most Democratic states, and he’s doing it by maintaining a (questionable) image of moderation and bipartisan spirit. For every gesture of fealty to the Tea Party base that Cuccinelli’s made, Christie has made one to highlight his independence; whether it’s famously partnering with President Barack Obama during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, defending the rights of Muslim citizens, relenting in his fight against gay marriage in the state, or accepting Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, Christie has consistently shown a willingness to buck his party’s base.

With Christie’s victory, and Cuccinelli’s defeat, all but certain, one wonders if the GOP base will learn anything from their divergent examples. From an electoral standpoint, Democrats should certainly hope not — the more Cuccinellis, the better! But for those of us who would like to see a relatively well-functioning, sane political system, one that not only spares us the indignities of debt ceiling threats and government shutdowns, but offers us better choices than McAuliffe or Cuccinelli, a rehabilitated GOP is desirable, indeed. Terry McAuliffe may be Virginia’s future; but let’s hope Christie is the GOP’s.

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a staff writer at Salon, focusing on politics. Follow him on Twitter at @eliasisquith, and email him at

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...