A few years ago I saw this phrase at the liberal political commentary site Balloon Juice: "Conservatism can never fail; it can only be failed." In other words, when a conservative fails to win elective office, or a program enacted by conservative legislators fails to work, the problem, according to conservatives, is always that the politician or policy in question wasn't conservative enough, or was undermined by external liberalizing forces. The Presidential elections of 2008 and 2012? McCain and Romney weren't real conservatives, and there was also a liberal media conspiracy. Collapse of the housing market? It was caused by Clinton's Department of Housing and Urban Development pressuring Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to promote affordable housing, not by the laws deregulating the financial sector passed by conservative-controlled Congresses, or the lax oversight by Republican administrations.
I was reminded of that phrase last night when, less than two hours after conservative Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli had been declared the loser of the Virginia gubernatorial race, I saw this news brief on the Washington Post's election day liveblog:
Cuccinelli strategist: GOP abandoned us
Ken Cuccinelli campaign strategist Chris La Civita said that among the what if’s in the wake of the Republican’s loss were whether Cuccinelli would have been able to pull out a win if he had received more financial support from national GOP sources – which dried up as of Oct. 1, he said — and if the federal government shutdown had been avoided or brought to a rapid close.
“There are a lot of questions people are going to be asking and that is, was leaving Cuccinelli alone in the first week of October, a smart move?” La Civita said in an interview following his candidate’s concession speech. “We were on our own. Just look at the volume [of ads].”
This morning, I saw the conservative website Free Republic and conservative talk show host Mark Levin making much the same point: Cuccinelli lost the race because he received inadequate support from the Republican party. It had nothing to do with his support of mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions, or his desire to recriminalize sodomy, or his interest in amending the 14th Amendment to revoke the citizenship of children born in the United States to undocumented aliens, or his running mate's belief that yoga is Satanic and that gays are "ikky." And it certainly had nothing to do with the fact that while serving as Virginia's attorney general, Cuccinelli failed to disclose his investments in or the $18,000 in gifts he and his wife received from the CEO of a nutritional supplements company that was involved in lawsuit with the state. No, the only possible explanation is that the national GOP didn't spend enough money on him.
Anyway, congratulations to Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe, whose election marks the end of a unusual and unique pattern. Virginia holds its gubernatorial elections in years following a Presidential election, and since 1977, the winner of the race for governor has always been from the party that lost the previous year's Presidential election. So after Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, was elected President in 1976, Virginians sent a Republican to the statehouse in 1977. During the twelve years Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush were in the White House, Democrats were in the Virginia governor's mansion. And so on, until now. I personally see no particular significance to this pattern, but it's interesting nonetheless.