The Governors’ Races and the Social Issues

by Ramesh Ponnuru

My new Bloomberg View column weighs in on topics that have been much discussed in this space: why Cuccinelli is behind in the polls in Virginia, and whether it’s because of his social conservatism.

Republican Bob McDonnell, the current governor, won big even though Democrats tried to paint him, too, as a social-issues extremist.

Why do they seem to be succeeding now when they failed then? It’s partly a matter of countenance: McDonnell was cheerful (if boring), and Cuccinelli often appears dour and argumentative. And it’s partly because McDonnell, unlike Cuccinelli (or Romney), responded to the attacks with his own effective ads.

Another difference, though, is that Cuccinelli made his name as a conservative crusader, especially on social issues, where McDonnell made his as a bipartisan problem-solver. McDonnell’s Democratic critics had to dig up a 20-year-old grad-school thesis he had written to make him look out of the mainstream; Cuccinelli’s have more recent initiatives and statements to work with. Refusing to defend that record put Cuccinelli in the worst possible position.

I conclude with some thoughts about what Christie’s impending reelection victory in New Jersey says about the viability of social conservatism.

The Corner

The one and only.