Chris Graham: Where do Republicans go from here?

You’re in the moderate wing of the Republican Party. (You’re tired of being called a RINO.) You point to Ken Cuccinelli’s loss in the 2013 Virginia governor race and say, See, told ya so. Cuccinelli was too conservative to get elected in a state like Virginia.

You’re in the conservative wing of the Republican Party. (You’re wondering why Tea Party is a bad word.) You point to how John McCain and mitt romney lost in Virginia in 2008 and 2012, to Barack Obama, of all people, and say, See, told ya so. McCain and Romney weren’t conservative enough to get elected in Virginia.

Damned if you do, you are, average Republican, whichever side of the party you’re on, and damned if you don’t.

Nobody’s going to confuse the maverick (cue the popular 2008 debate drinking game here) McCain and the milquetoast businessman Romney with Tea Party conservatives, and both lost pretty handily to Obama in the Commonwealth.

Cuccinelli, the darling of the Tea drinkers, also came up short against Terry McAuliffe, though his race was much closer than either of the two presidential contests, and also closer than the 2012 Senate race won by Democrat Tim Kaine over Republican George Allen.

Cuccinelli’s supporters argue that had he gotten more support from establishment Republicans, and he got almost none, so any support would qualify as more support, he might today be governor-elect.

His detractors say he blew what was almost certainly a sure thing (see McDonnell, Bob, 2009) against a candidate in McAuliffe who was maybe the lightest-weight Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Virginia history.

Great. So we’re back to square zero. Where do you go if you’re a Republican in Virginia? Would Bill Bolling have taken down McAuliffe had he gotten the GOP nomination? (Probably. But he’s done now. Four years is a long time with your name out of the headlines. Four months is a long time in today’s media climate.)

Would Cuccinelli have had a chance at an upset if congressional Republicans hadn’t shut down the federal government for 16 days in October, their own October Surprise that put Cuccinelli down in the polls by double-digits? He certainly would have had a much better chance at winning than if the shutdown wouldn’t have happened.

Note that the shutdown was the strategy of choice of the Tea Party wing of the GOP. The moderates allowed themselves to get dragged into it against their better judgment, but they did play along.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

I’m not sure what Republicans can do to win in Virginia in the future. If they can’t beat Barack Obama, Tim Kaine and Terry McAuliffe with their best of the best, it may be that the writing is on the wall.

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