By John Fredericks
“The Republican Party, both in this state and nationally, is a broad party. There is room in our tent for many views; indeed, the divergence of views is one of our strengths. Let no one, however, interpret this to mean compromise of basic philosophy or that we will be all things to all people for political expediency…
Within our tent, there will be many arguments and divisions over approach and method and even those we choose to implement our philosophy.” – Ronald Reagan, April 1, 1967
So much for Ronald Reagan’s bold vision of a big tent in Virginia’s new “convention” dominated GOP. The exiguous nominating process the party’s state committee adopted for 2013 has essentially frozen out gubernatorial aspirant Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, who announced his withdrawal from the fray on Tuesday, citing a narrow and exclusive conclave that blocked his path to a broader potential coalition of primary voters.
The state GOP’s big tent now risks shrinking to a tepee – or perhaps an igloo.
This does not bode well for a party that has lost three of the last four statewide elections and faces a daunting challenge in attempting to defeat Terry McAuliffe, the longtime Bill and Hillary Clinton financier, former Democratic National Chairman and the presumed Democratic candidate for governor this fall.
The Bolling bailout is as troubling as it is telling on several fronts, least of which has anything to do with the political voracity of the now presumptive GOP gubernatorial nominee, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. The Commonwealth’s top lawman, nationally recognized as a Tea Party rock-star, is a powerful candidate, a formidable fundraiser and a charismatic speaker who pursues his mission at hand with unyielding energy and exuberance. Victory over McAuliffe in November sets him up for a Presidential bid in 2016. Cuccinelli’s electoral vibrancy is not at issue.
It’s the methodology of the nominating process that has further base-constricting implications, and should give party leaders pause as they gather for their annual Advance convention in Virginia Beach this weekend.
Bolling, a two-term office holder of the state’s second highest elected position, is an authentic and articulate conservative with an impeccable track record of results, both in the public and private sector. The sitting Lt. governor had amassed an enviable campaign war chest. He secured the unabashed endorsement of not only one of the most popular governors in the nation, Virginia’s Governor Bob McDonnell, but also that of the Majority Leader of the US House of Representatives, Eric Cantor. To think that the party’s nominating process is so exclusive that Bolling couldn’t compete with Cuccinelli at the convention, thereby forcing his departure from the race six months out, is a troubling predictor of the party’s further narrowing of an already diminishing base.
Instead of having a spirited and honest debate between two very capable candidates who would be laying out their divergent visions for the future, Republicans will have a coronation at their May convention, at least for the top of the ticket.
Instead of Bolling and his campaign team bringing thousands of delegates into the fold who might not initially share the same level of enthusiasm for Cuccinell’s emphasis on social issues, but would certainly embrace the eventual nominee and stay involved with the party, the convention now gambles on being dominated by one version of ideological thinkers.
Would Cuccinelli have prevailed as the eventual nominee even if Bolling remained in the race? Most likely, but now we’ll never know. What we do know is that the chance for open discourse is thwarted, and many potential Bolling delegates will now stay at home, leaving the party as the ultimate loser.
In a prepared statement, Bolling left us with this chilling line: “Conventions are by their very nature exclusive…”
With a party whose only statewide victory in six years was in an election cycle when voter turnout was a paltry 40 percent, one would think Republicans in Virginia would want to find ways to expand its voter appeal and get more people involved, not constrict it through a contrived and attenuated convention nominating process that favors only the most vociferous of political activists.
John Fredericks is a syndicated morning radio talk show host in Virginia and can be heard M-F 6-9 a.m. on WTNT –AM 730 & 102.9FM in D.C., WLEE AM 990 in Richmond and WHKT AM 1650 in Tidewater, or streaming online at www.thejohnfrederickshow.com