This is the fourth part of my series on Establishment and Outsiders in the Republican Party of Virginia. The first two posts described the characteristics of the two. My third post presented Bill Bolling as an example if an Establishment Republican; for my Outsider example, I use Ken Cuccinelli.
I chose Cuccinelli for specific reasons, many dealing with what he is not. Cuccinelli is not more conservative than Bolling. In fact, they’re records on issues are nearly identical. They even have the same glaring error (to me), namely HB3202.
What makes Cuccinelli an Outsider, rather, is his demeanor and approach to politics. Cuccinelli is more confrontational than the typical politician, a trait which combines dynamic thinking and a sense if urgency that the more stability-oriented Establishment tends to downplay. He revels in being the underdog, and in his 2009 general election campaign, he stunned his complacent opponent by seizing the initiative and never letting go. Rather than rely on party networks, he established and grew his own.
Now, there are more than a few politicians who also fit that bill. What makes Cuccinelli more the archetype Outsider was his almost disastrous failure to try the Establishment role in his 2007 re-election campaign. While Bolling’s attempt to play against type as an insurgent running for Governor in 2007-8 was generally problematic, Cuccinelli’s attempt to play by the Establishment playbill was a barely mitigated fiasco. He nearly destroyed his credibility by voting for HB3202. His campaign tried the incumbency card – and flubbed badly. If not for an opponent nearly everyone acknowledges as subpar, he might have lost in 2007 and become a brief footnote in local political history.
As it was, he squeaked through, and never used the Establishment plan again. He was the first (and if memory serves, the only) elected Republican to back Bob Marshall in 2008; in his AG campaign next year he ran against an opponent right out of central casting, and beat him for the nomination. He played in the role he likes best – the underdog – against Steve Shannon, and turned a race that worried many Republicans into a rout.
By choosing to run for Governor, he will likely not run for re-election for anything until the 2020s. I doubt that is accidental.
In short, Cuccinelli is most comfortable going against the odds and shaking things up; he also has the success that keeps him on the good side (so far) of the line between dynamic and reckless.
Again, and I emphasize this once more because some BD commenters are having trouble processing this, Cuccinelli is not an Outsider because he is more conservative than Bolling (in fact, he’s not). This isn’t about principle or ideology. It is about attitude, method, and the nature of the man. That is what makes Cuccinelli an Outsider.
Cross-posted to Bearing Drift