Making Bob McDonnell look moderate
By Lee Hockstader
For Virginia’s new governor, Bob McDonnell, his fellow Republican Ken Cuccinelli is looking like the gift that keeps on giving.
Cuccinelli is the state’s ultra-conservative attorney general, a job he ran for last year knowing he was in serious danger of losing his state Senate seat in a moderate swing district. (Four years earlier, Cuccinelli held on to it by a razor-thin margin, and he did nothing to temper his right-wing views or votes after that.)
Cuccinelli, as he has made extravagantly clear before and since taking office in January, has an activist agenda that includes waging war on federal initiatives he considers too liberal (such as health care) and bashing gays whenever he gets the chance. He’s said that in contrast to previous attorneys general (such as McDonnell), he has no intention of ever running for governor and would be happy to remain as the state’s top lawyer for multiple terms. In other words, he’s realistic enough to know that his rigid ideology won’t play on a bigger stage.
By contrast, McDonnell, who under the state’s constitution cannot run for reelection, has every reason to harbor national ambitions: He’s good-looking, well spoken, cool under pressure and a hero to Republicans for having recaptured Virginia’s governorship after eight years of Democrats. And thanks to that notorious grad school dissertation, he has the kind of social conservative bona fides that Mike Huckabee might envy; at least for the time being, he doesn’t need to worry too much about celebrating God and guns -- or about bashing gays.
What McDonnell needed during the election last fall, and continues to need, is to establish that he is not a rigid right-winger whose ideological fervor trumps pragmatism. And that’s where Cuccinelli comes in so handy. In contrast to Cuccinelli, practically anyone looks like a moderate.
So when Cuccinelli staked out the hard-right turf by telling public colleges that they have no business banning discrimination against gays, it was like manna from heaven for McDonnell. Threading the needle neatly, he stepped in to the fray (colleges were going nuts) and issued a directive banning discrimination in the state workforce. At the same time, he stuck to his position that only the General Assembly can extend legal protection to homosexuals; he would’t even commit himself to signing a bill to ban discrimination. As Dick Howard, the eminence grise of Virginia constitutional law, put it, McDonnell is “clearly avoiding issuing a document which adds to the corpus of substantive law.”
Look for McDonnell and Cuccinelli to maintain this good-cop-bad-cop routine for the foreseeable future, as McDonnell tries to cement the moderate cred that will make him a vice presidential contender in 2012 or 2016, and as Cuccinelli continues to sing sweet music to his base of gay-hating conservatives.
| March 12, 2010; 2:36 PM ET
Categories: Hockstader | Tags: Lee Hockstader
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