In the first test for a Republican Party that is still reeling from the disastrous 2012 election, Virginia’s gubernatorial race could have provided the GOP an opportunity to temper its ultraconservative platform or restrain its partnership with the Tea Party. But the choice of state attorney general Ken Cuccinelli to be the party’s presumptive nominee for governor indicates that the GOP is moving even further to the right and letting go of any pretense of moderation or bipartisanship.
Throughout his career, Cuccinelli has been something of a bellwether for the course of the Republican Party. He won his first political office in 2002, when he deposed a moderate, pro-choice Republican incumbent in Virginia’s state senate, leading the incumbent to lament, “The GOP picked someone whose thinking is so ancient, he would be an embarrassment to Northern Virginia.” In 2009, he was on the front lines of the Tea Party movement, winning election to the state attorney general’s office on a wave of anti-Obama rhetoric and renewed culture-war spirit.
As Virginia’s attorney general, Cuccinelli has become a right-wing rock star. He’s picked fights with the Obama administration, scientists, colleges and universities, and supporters of gay, immigrant and reproductive rights, and strategically allied himself with birthers, climate change deniers, Religious Right activists, Tea Party members and the NRA.
Now, Cuccinelli’s gubernatorial candidacy may be a test of how far the GOP is willing and able to take its recent lurch to the right. If the choice of Cuccinelli to head the party’s ticket in Virginia is any clue, the GOP has abandoned any pretense of reflection and soul-searching and decided to go all in on its embrace of the Radical Right’s policies and rhetoric. Whether he succeeds, and whether the national Republican Party will continue to embrace Cuccinelli and the extremism he represents, may tell us quite a lot about the future of our politics.