The Republican Donors Went AWOL – And It Hurt Cuccinelli

After Ken Cuccinelli ended Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling’s aspirations to become Virginia’s next governor, he remained idle; refusing to endorse Cuccinelli when he officially clinched the Republican nomination for governor. As the race progressed, the Republican donor base in Virginia went AWOL.  In the end, it contributed to Ken Cuccinelli’s sinking campaign.

Ben Domenech, publisher of The Federalist, wrote today that typically donors are aligned with the more moderate wing of the GOP.  The grassroots is more or less dominated by conservatives, hence the reason why Bill Bolling probably would have lost the primary if we ever had one.  Nevertheless, conservatives will rally behind and vote for a moderate Republican.  We’ve done this in 2008 and 2012, but moderates tend to remain bitter when they lose – and refuse to help even if it means allowing a liberal candidate win.  Talk about destroying the village to save it.

[T]he Republican donor community is flailing desperately for a narrative to defend their decision to leave Cuccinelli high and dry as something other than a temper tantrum. The story was supposed to be that Terry McAuliffe and Bill Bolling were right: Cuccinelli was too extreme for Virginia, and it was time to get back to nominating the types of candidates they wanted. But Cuccinelli – even without the money, without the support, without the infrastructure – made it a race in the closing days, and now the donor class which said “screw it, I’m out” after the nomination fight played out are straining for excuses.

The recriminations over Cuccinelli’s narrow loss have thus far mostly been trained on the RNC and other major organizations, but that’s somewhat unfair. Yes, they should’ve recognized the potential for Obamacare to take this race from the embarrassment public polling indicated to a closer thing.


The truth is that complaints should be aimed less at those who should’ve done more late in the game, and more at those who unplugged from the beginning, never showing up to back Cuccinelli earlier in the contest.

Ross Douthat touches on this in his wise take on the vengeance of donorism:

I’ve been extremely critical, since 2012, of what I’ve called the “donorist” worldview within the G.O.P., which basically imagines that the party’s only problem is its stance on social issues, and that with the right mix of immigration boosterism and gay marriage flip-flopping, Republicans can cruise to victory without so much as tweaking their “1980 forever” economic agenda. This strikes me as politically blinkered as well as mistaken on the policy merits, and given a choice between a conservatism founded on donorist ideas and a conservatism founded on the more populist alternatives, I’ll take the latter, faults and all, every time. (Bill Bolling, Cuccinelli’s more business-friendly rival for the G.O.P. nomination, might have eked out a win over McAuliffe, but a Republican Party organized around Bill Bolling’s worldview would be a permanent minority party, having essentially cut its base adrift in exchange for better fundraising and a few more suburban votes.)


Domenech also leaves no place of refuge for donors who “unplugged” early.  The spin they’ll try to pass on to the rest of us centers on the numerous polls that showed Ken was down by at least 7-9 points, but:

According to internal polling data from Cuccinelli’s campaign, his net favorable numbers went from +4 in February to -20 in mid-October, with his unfavorable ratings steadily rising from 26% in February to 50% unfavorable in mid-October (with no change in favorability – he was hovering at 30% the whole time). At the same time, McAuliffe’s net favorable went from +6 in February to -2 in mid-October, rising roughly together. That is a function of money and ads and nothing else: a candidate getting completely curbstomped on the airwaves with barely a modicum of an ability to fight back.

Without a doubt, Obamacare was the deciding factor in eliminating McAuliffe’s lead in the polls.  By the way, Cuccinelli did all of this without a single ad in Northern Virginia since he didn’t have the money. That’s astonishing.  In the last few weeks of the campaign:

Cuccinelli would add almost eight points to his total without any ad presence in the Northern Virginia market. That’s an incredible pace, one that it’s difficult to find any precedent for in an election with this much polling data going into the final weeks. There was no other major news story. There was no major breaking scandal. Obamacare’s rollout made the difference.And the Democrats up for re-election next year know it. If only the Republican donor class had been in the game in Virginia all along, maybe they would’ve known it, too.

As many conservatives have said in the past, the problem isn’t the Tea Party; it’s the moderates.

Cross-posted at Noodle Pundit.

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Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling

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