Too Extreme

November 04, 2013

Voters in Virginia head to the polls tomorrow to elect a new governor. Or, at least some voters (probably not much more than one-third) will make their way to the polls. In what is the worst match-up in modern Virginia politics, the disliked Terry McAuliffe (the Democrat) will likely easily beat the even more disliked Ken Cuccinelli (the Republican). This should be a Republican year, but they threw away the election by nominating candidates too extreme to win. In every Virginia gubernatorial election since 1977, the party in the White House has lost the Virginia gubernatorial race (and New Jersey, the only other state in this off-year cycle, started that same trend one election cycle later in 1981). So given President Barack Obama's reelection last year - and his poor approval ratings now - Republicans should be celebrating easy wins tomorrow night. Yet, McAulifee has led every poll for months, as has the Democratic Lt. Governor candidate Ralph Northam. As Cuccinelli plotted to capture the Republican nomination over Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, he got state Republican leaders to change the process from a primary to a convention. This change meant many fewer people would be able to vote and that the more extreme candidate would win. Bolling then dropped out, giving Cuccinelli exactly what he wanted. However, he found himself hurt by the system he embraced as the Lt. Governor candidate nominated at that convention would not have won a primary. That candidate, E. W. Jackson, only added to Cuccinelli's woes by making the whole Republican ticket look too extreme and unfit to lead. The scandal-plagued and generally untrusted McAuliffe seems like the least likely candidate to break a four-decade historical trend, and it is hard to imagine he would have beat Bolling. But the Cuccinelli-Jackson ticket shows how the Tea Party is hurting the Republican Party by blowing winnable races.

Jackson, a minister with no elected experience, had won only five percent in a Republican U.S. senate primary last year, but squeaked out a victory at the convention this year after giving a fiery speech. However, that conservative fire has also been his downfall in the general election. Much of his controversial remarks involve religion and come from comments in his sermons. Pushing the church-state boundaries, Jackson continues to preach during the campaign, but given his sermons this has not been a smart political strategy. In a sermon in September, he attacked non-Christians, and in the past he also made over-the-top remarks on topics like race and homosexuality. While it is one thing for a preacher to make such comments, it is quite different for someone running to serve all the people. When Jackson rightly is criticized for his hateful and inaccurate remarks, he claims his critics are anti-Christian. Speaking to the Values Voter Summit last month (see post here), Jackson suggested his critics were part of "a growing hostility against Christianity, a growing hostility against those of us who believe in the Bible as truth." In reality, many who oppose Jackson do so not because of they are anti-Christian but because they disagree with his politics and/or his interpretation of Christianity. Interestingly, Jackson now realizes the impact his extreme rhetoric has had on his campaign and falsely denies he made some of the controversial remarks. So he has moved from saying unChristian things to attacking his critics as anti-Christian to being unChristian by lying about what he has said. Jackson has proved himself to be among the worst examples of mixing religion and politics. Hopefully people will not use him to harshly judge politicians or especially Christian ministers. We need less brimstone and more grace. We need less divisiveness and more cooperation.