The GOP's Cuccinelli Problem

If Ted Cruz and company's government shutdown exercise is exhibit A for what is ailing the Republican Party, Terry McAuliffe's victory over Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia's gubernatorial race should be exhibit B.

On the red state/blue state spectrum, Virginia is probably best described as magenta. Its hue is still more red than blue. Republicans should be able to win statewide -- especially against a Democrat with negatives as high as McAuliffe's -- but only if they field candidates whose appeal extends beyond the party's rightmost flank.

Any chance at fielding such a candidate was lost back in 2012, when the Virginia GOP decided to forego a statewide primary election and choose its nominee at the party convention -- where a small number of tea party activists could control the outcome and secure the nomination for Cuccinelli.

The candidate with broader appeal, Virginia Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, would have been favored in a primary, but the state's Republican voters never got a chance to choose.

Once again the Republican Party has shot itself in the foot by allowing an impassioned few from its fringe to have outsized influence. In this case, by nominating a deeply flawed candidate who has no crossover appeal and even turns off many of his fellow Republicans.

The problem with Cuccinelli and other tea party candidates is not that they are too conservative; it is that they are too radical.

Their strident opposition to the federal government, extreme partisanship, closed mindedness, and ideological zeal makes them either unable to win, or unable to prudently govern.

In Cuccinelli's case, perhaps nothing illustrates these traits better than his costly one man war on climate science.

Based solely on his own skepticism of climate science, Cuccinelli used his position as Attorney General to pursue a heavy-handed fraud investigation against a highly regarded climate scientist, Michael Mann, and the University of Virginia. His two-year effort was widely criticized as an intimidation tactic to squelch climate research and the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that Cuccinelli had overstepped his authority.

The fact that 95 percent of the world's climate scientists generally agree with Dr. Mann did not deter Cuccinelli, neither did lower court rulings against him, nor concern for the University's academic freedom.

That ill-advised investigation provided a solid foundation for his opponents to build on in casting Cuccinelli as too extreme, and according to a recent Washington Post story, also cost him the support of some big GOP donors.

Ken Cuccinelli now joins Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle, Todd Akin, and Richard Mourdock on the list of loses Republicans can attribute to tea party radicalism.

The obvious contrast is how easily Governor Chris Christie, who is both fiscally and socially conservative, cruised to victory in the very blue state of New Jersey.

Many in the media will no doubt try to explain this by casting Christie as "less conservative" than Cuccinelli, but such analysis would be wrong. Christie is the more conservative of the two.

The difference is that Christie is genuinely conservative, not radical. He holds views more in line with traditionalists conservatives like Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk and Ronald Reagan. He pursues prudent change, seeks to solve problems, works to gain consensus support for his goals, is open to new information, and governs with an attitude of service to all of his constituents.

Tea party candidates like Cuccinelli seek hasty and dramatic change, ignore problems that challenge their worldview, do not seek consensus, are closed minded, and tend to view the world through an "us versus them" lens.

Radicalism, be it from the left or the right, is not conservative.

Theodore Roosevelt once cautioned about following those "whose eyes are a little too wild to make it really safe to trust them."

It is time for the Republican Party to heed that advice and see tea party radicalism for the threat it is -- a threat not only to the Republican Party, but to the future of conservatism.