The Virginia Republican train wreck

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By Tom Wilmoth

Currently, the Virginia Republican Party is in the sorriest shape it’s been since the late 1960s, when a handful of GOP stalwarts began to build the party into something that could compete with Virginia Democrats.
    In the wake of the Democratic sweep of this November’s elections, and hampered by the right-wing extremists who have just about ruined it, the state GOP is sorely in need of a return to the drawing board.
    Ken Cuccinelli was surely the most divisive, ideologically-driven candidate ever nominated for governor. That the governor’s race wound up closer than most thought still does not justify the nomination of someone whose “tea party” agenda was the real focus of the race.
    But Cuccinelli was at least the sitting attorney general and a state legislator prior to that. The nomination of the fanatical preacher, E.W. Jackson for lt. governor, was the biggest mistake I’ve ever seen a political party make.
    Jackson was not remotely qualified for the office he sought, and his paper trail record of extreme and embarrassing statements should have made him the last person the state GOP would pick, but, again, “tea party” extremists have their own low standards, and they got who they wanted.
    Jackson based much of his campaign on what he sees as “Christian” priorities. His devotion to the “social issue” obsessions of abortion and gays is something the GOP has got to abandon, both here and across the country.
    It’s time to leave transvaginal ultrasounds, “personhood” amendments, and ceaseless attempts to “limit” abortion behind. Or, at least, leave it to the people in the House of Delegates – such as Bob Marshall and Kathy Byron – most likely to predictably obsess over it.
    State Republicans have got to realize that we have a representative democracy, and that elections are not religious crusades, but are the vehicle through which we choose secular lawmakers. Secular.
    The Virginia Republican Party has an awful lot of work to do to repair its image and bring itself out of the darkness of extremism. It won’t win many more elections until it does.
    Two Republicans have emerged who understand that and are trying to reform the party along more moderate lines.
Former congressman Tom Davis has joined forces with a former GOP gubernatorial candidate, Wyatt Durette, to guide the party into producing more mainstream candidates.
    Davis talked about the effort last week with Bloomberg News, which referred to his goal as “an intra-party revolt.”
    He said he wants to nominate candidates “less extreme on issues such as abortion rights and (therefore) more electable,” according to Bloomberg.
    The two hope to have an organization up and running early next year that can again attract the business-oriented donors who were so turned off by the likes of Cuccinelli and Jackson.
    Durette, the party’s gubernatorial nominee in 1985, said “My major concern about the party is the lack of tolerance of differing views within a broad philosophical framework, and the unwillingness on the part of some to find compromises in order to govern effectively.”
    Surely, most Republicans who still have some common sense can see that he is right. A political party needs a philosophy and a program; but it also needs to win elections in order to carry out any of its policies.
    For a long time now, Republicans in Virginia have gone too far to the right, as has the national party. The results are obvious: Most Americans (and Virginians) aren’t going to elect right-wing extremists who have a peculiar fixation on private lives.
    Davis and Durette have a tough job ahead, but somebody needs to clean out the dead wood in that party.

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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at RickDem117@gmail.com.