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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.

By Lee Hockstader  | March 12, 2010; 2:36 PM ET
Categories:  Hockstader  | Tags:  Lee Hockstader  
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Kookinelli is a lunatic of profound proportions and McD is a dull-witted toad. I knew the Kook was going to be trouble, but I had no idea he'd prove himself so soon and in such an impossible-to-defend way. The two rode in on an anti-Obama train of bigotry and a democratic slate of challengers who were so inept they attempted to win by toning down their liberal beliefs and becoming falsely "moderate". Virginia voters have never been subjected to a worse choice and liberal voters had no choice at all. It was almost as if the VA Democratic Party threw the election.

I think we're pretty safe in saying Bob shot himself in the foot in his response to Obama's SOTU address and came close to killing his career even more quickly than Bobby Who. This kerfuffle over gay rights may have blown back on Kookinelli first, but Bob's going to catch plenty too, since they're cut from the same cloth despite the good cop bad cop posturing.

As for the Kook's chances for the future: he could barely hold his seat in Backwater VA he'll be on his butt as a one term AG. Let's just hope he doesn't do too much damage first.

Posted by: joebanks | March 12, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

One has to worry about the state of the state of Virginia. It was pretty easy for us to bail on a 7 day trip to Williamsburg. The place has a great history but the present, not so much.

Posted by: hoser3 | March 12, 2010 7:04 PM | Report abuse

McDonnell is one of the blandest public personalities I've ever seen. When he gave the response to the State of the Union, in front of that clearly-designed-to-look-presidential audience, he came across as boring in every sense of the term. The speech was boring, the voice was boring, the cute little aphorism from his grandpappy (which ought to be salty and new and really pop!) was something along the lines of "Work hard, son." Seriously, even his own sons sat there looking embarrassed.

This man "threading the needle" is not akin to someone being graceful. It's someone who avoids all commitment and belief in order to please everyone. He has no soul.

Posted by: cturtle1 | March 13, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

I guess the GOP isn't quite finished in its quest to alienate every voting block in the nation except white, heterosexual males. So many people to hate - so little time.

Posted by: EnemyOfTheState | March 13, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Is there such a naive and gullible collection of voters anywhere else in the free world that could possibly rival the USA's? The fact that the GOP is still in business after preaching one theory and practicing another is a testiment to the ignorance of the populace, particularly its minions who blindly follow the self-serving, duplicitous leadership of the Republican Party.

Posted by: rbrent516 | March 13, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Do you think McDonnell will try to out do Texas.

"Texas Conservatives Win Curriculum Change"

Posted by: knjincvc | March 13, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Texas's Attorney General (AG) provides written opinions to help government agencies. Texas AG opinions are just like those of your own attorney--they provide guidance, but do not make law; in Virginia, unless the legislature votes to deny an AG opinion, it is the law.

In Texas the legislative requester must be a committee; in Virginia he or she can be an individual legislator. A legislator opposed to a particular law can approach Virginia's Attorney General to have it nullified. The differences benefit the Virginia politician in search of future national prominence; they ill serve the polity.

To see the difference check out the opinions of Texas AG John Cornyn:

and then Virginia AG Bob McDonnell:

The difference will soon become apparent. Both men are Republicans.

Posted by: Martial | March 13, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

The only state law in Virginia in which a claim of discrimination can be made is the Virginia Human Rights Act. It is similar to Title VII, in that sexual orientation is not a basis for a claim.

Given the most egregious sexual orientation discrimination claim, a "persecuted minority" claim (in the words of a poster on another question, and given a case where no rational person would not find discrimination if the Virginia Human Rights Commission had jurisdition, the Aggrieved goes to the Human Rights Commission and presents a claim of discrimination based on sexual orientation. The claim is reviewed, and the claimant is told that Virginia does not recognize sexual orientation claims, but does recognize claims on the basis of gender (she's too butch, he's a girly-girl). The claimant says, no I am claiming discrimination based on the school's anti-discrimination policy. The Human Rights Commission says: 1. The college policy does not provide enforceable rights and 2. Dillon requires the legislature to make such changes. Summary judgment for Virginia.

Great moral victory--not a legal one.

Posted by: Paladin7b1 | March 14, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

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