Republican Defeat in Virginia Well Earned

Republicans were desperate to win the race for governor in Virginia. It is fair to say what worried them most was Libertarian Robert Sarvis polling well -- as high as 12 percent in some polls. GOP strategists thought Sarvis posed a threat to them, particularly as they were running a more religiously extreme ticket than usual, with Ken Cuccinelli and E.W. Jackson as their top two candidates.

In recent weeks, Republicans mounted a concerted effort to attack Sarvis. It led to the comedic situation of conservatives lecturing libertarians about how libertarians should be libertarian. I'll give you a clue -- they thought libertarians could be libertarian by being conservative. They attempted to paint Sarvis as a liberal, while pretending that their big government, social conservative ticket was actually libertarian.

National Review -- which has been smearing libertarians since William F. Buckley founded it -- went so far as to say Sarvis couldn't be a libertarian because, "The Virginia gubernatorial candidate is a social liberal." The truth is, if one isn't a social liberal, then one can't be a libertarian. The whole idea of libertarianism is that one shouldn't impose these values on the society as a whole. One may be a conservative personally, in one's own life, but social conservatism means an agenda for society as a whole, not a personal moral code. Social liberalism is not sufficient to be a libertarian, but it is necessary.

National Review attacked Sarvis because "he is a social liberal. He is in favor of gay marriage, is (radically) pro-choice, and supports the legalization of marijuana." No! A libertarian taking those positions, it's hard to imagine.

As comedic as this was, conservative columnist Tim Carney got even more laughable. He went so far as to claim, "Virginia's Ken Cuccinelli would arguably be the most libertarian governor in the United States." This was the sort of desperate tactic conservative hacks were reduced to--a cheap version of bait-and-switch. They first tried to pretend Sarvis was no libertarian, and then substituted hard-core social authoritarian, Ken Cuccinelli, in his place.

All this shows is libertarians shouldn't pay attention to Republican Party pimps.

If Republicans want libertarian votes they have to give libertarians a reason to vote for them. It is no longer good enough to pull a panicked look and point hysterically at "the other guy," and shout, "Boo!" Republicans can't simple argue they are less toxic than Democrats on a few issues. If the GOP can't find candidates who understand their religious values are not a justification for public policies, they shouldn't expect libertarian voters to get enthusiastic come election day.

As soon as it became apparent Cuccinelli was defeated, conservatives blamed Sarvis. Conspiracy theories in comments across the blog started claiming that he was a "plant," secretly funded by Democrats to steal votes from Cuccinelli. The premise here is votes "belong" to a specific candidate; voters are not free to vote as they like. No candidate went into this election "deserving" votes. They had to earn them. Cuccinelli failed.

The best "evidence" they could concoct was that one individual who contributed to Obama also contributed to libertarian PACs. One of those PACs later gave $16,000 to Sarvis to help him petition for ballot status. As far as conspiracy theories go, Reptillian secret rulers have more substance. This is lame, even by Glenn Beck's standards.

It's not too hard to figure out why Cuccinelli lost from exit polls. The only people to blame are Republicans and their Religious Right allies.

Republicans have a severe gender gap when it comes to votes. Male voters have only a 3 point spread between them when it comes to which of the two big parties they support. But women lean Democrat by 9 points. Sarvis, by the way, polled equally well with both genders.

Republican voters in Virginia tend to be over 45. Sarvis received 15 percent of the vote from those 18 to 29. Similarly, independent voters gave Sarvis more votes than average for the state -- 10 percent verses 7 percent.

Sarvis did better with lower-income voters than higher-income ones. He got a higher percentage of the pro-choice vote on average as well, while only 5 percent of Tea Party supporters voted for him, below average for the state.

In other words, voters who supported Sarvis were more likely to be moderates and liberals than conservatives. Republicans lost because they are tied to a Religious Right agenda that just isn't popular among women, younger voters, and independents. The GOP has tied their wagon to a dying horse. Their constituency is a shrinking one: older, white evangelicals.

When the GOP adopted this strategy in the 80s, it appeared fundamentalist Christianity was growing. In reality, it was only grabbing a larger share of a shrinking market--self-identified Christians. As time has shown, the number of fundamentalists in this country is shrinking. Even Southern Baptists are losing members.

Evangelical Michael Spencer says demographics of the evangelical sects show they will go into steep decline. Spencer said one reason for the decline is "Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism." He has that backwards. It was conservatism that allowed itself to be redefined by the Religious Right. Evangelicals, not conservatives, made abortion an issue for Republicans. We shouldn't forget that Barry Goldwater was a supporter of Planned Parenthood, as well as an opponent of letting fundamentalists take over the GOP. It is only their evangelical base that prevents Republicans from dropping their increasingly unpopular, obsessive anti-gay views.

The GOP didn't take over evangelicalism, the evangelicals took over the GOP, and it's been on a downward slope ever since. The problem is that slope is becoming steeper, conservatives want to avoid responsibility for their own mistakes. Sarvis is just a convenient scapegoat.

Winning the Bible Belt remains easy for Republicans, but they are going to find it increasingly harder to win states not dominated by revivalist Christianity. The fact is, the public is now strongly in favor of gay marriage, is not particularly keen to ban abortion, and is increasingly non-religious. That bodes badly for a party that tied itself to the regressive coattails of American fundamentalism.