Virginia’s Ken Cuccinelli would arguably be the most libertarian governor in the United States if he wins on Nov. 5 — which makes it odd that he’s become a top target for many libertarians.
Cuccinelli trails Democrat Terry McAuliffe in all polls, while Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis is pulling 10 percent of the vote. One national libertarian group is spending big to back Sarvis and attack Cuccinelli.
But Cuccinelli has libertarian bona fides: As attorney general he led the states aiming to kill Obamacare, with all its mandates, taxes, regulations, subsidies and intrusions. He wants to cut the state income tax rate by 15 percent for individuals and 33 percent for corporations.
Cuccinelli has an A rating from the NRA — earned while representing Fairfax County in the state Senate. He opposed smoking bans as a senator.
To a libertarian, all of the above looks good, but not extraordinary for a Republican. But there's more.
Republican governors who sing paeans to the free market almost always make exceptions in order to be more “pro-business.” Cuccinelli, meanwhile, has angered much of his state’s business lobby by running against corporate welfare, opposing the tax hikes that Northern Virginia developers are seeking to pay for roads and public services and pledging to put special-interest tax credits on the chopping block.
Cuccinelli also often chooses government restraint over “law and order.”
When Virginia’s GOP tried to expand the death penalty in 2009, Cuccinelli was the only Republican to vote no — during a competitive GOP primary for attorney general.
Although not ready to support drug legalization like Sarvis, Cuccinelli has criticized the drug war as overzealous, and he said jailing marijuana dealers is a waste of taxpayer money. He told me he’s open to legalizing pot in Virginia if things go well in Colorado and Washington.
Attorney General Cuccinelli crusaded to exonerate Thomas Haynesworth, a black man wrongly convicted and jailed for 27 years. Cuccinelli argued successfully in court to get Haynseworth a rare “writ of actual innocence” — a feat only possible because state Sen. Cuccinelli had championed a law to make such exoneration easier.
Rand Paul and Ron Paul have endorsed Cuccinelli, as has the Republican Liberty Caucus of Virginia — the libertarian platoon within the state’s GOP.
Yet Purple PAC, a political action committee headed by Libertarian Ed Crane, former president of the Cato Institute, announced Oct. 25 it would spend $300,000 to back Sarvis. And many Beltway politicos with libertarian leanings are backing Sarvis and expressing disgust for Cuccinelli.
Why are libertarians working so hard against Cuccinelli, who is probably the most libertarian statewide official in Virginia in recent history?
I suspect identity politics plays a role.
I asked Sarvis why a libertarian should oppose Cuccinelli, and the first words out of his mouth were “social issues.” Crane’s only critique of Cuccinelli when announcing the $300,000 buy for Sarvis: “Ken Cuccinelli is a socially intolerant, hard-right conservative with little respect for civil liberties.”
Cuccinelli is undoubtedly conservative. He’s an observant Catholic with seven children and a home-schooling wife. He’s a hero to the pro-life cause and an opponent of gay marriage.
Libertarians, as a rule, support gay marriage, and most libertarians are pro-choice. But pro-life views fit within the libertarian framework: If you believe an in utero baby is a person, and if you believe the government has a legitimate role in protecting the innocent from violence, it’s logical to restrict abortion.
And Cuccinelli, while unwavering in his moral opposition to abortion, is a moderate among Virginia Republicans when it comes to government restrictions on abortion: He worked behind the scenes trying to remove a GOP-created requirement that women undergo an ultrasound before getting an abortion.
But the social liberals' attack on Cuccinelli conflates his personal conservatism with his policy views.
In prosecuting a 47-year-old sexual predator who had sex with minor, Cuccinelli defended the state’s “Crimes Against Nature” law — thus the charge he wants to “ban sodomy” and hence homosexuality. “I can assure you,” Cuccinelli told me, “I don’t want to outlaw it — or outlaw contraception.”
And on gay issues, he’s no busybody: “I support the marriage amendment in our state. It really doesn’t go beyond that.”
But this is where the identity politics comes in. Taxes, regulations, government spending, gun control and corporate welfare are mere policy matters. Abortion and gay marriage touch on personal matters.
Cuccinelli’s large family, homeschooling wife and religious devotion are also personal matters.
Politics often has less to do with policy and more to do with whether voters feel a candidate is “one of us.” Many libertarians have difficulty feeling that Cuccinelli is “one of them” — despite his voting record.
Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Sunday and Wednesday on washingtonexaminer.com.