Has the GOP Learned Nothing?

By nominating E.W. Jackson, Virginia Republicans hope extremism will save them.

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You'd think the conservative base would have learned its lesson in 2010, when, in a fever pitch of epic magnitude, it nominated Christine O'Donnell, Ken Buck, Sharron Angle and Joe Miller to run for the U.S. Senate. Suddenly, what looked like a prime opportunity for Republicans to flip the upper chamber and send Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., packing turned into an example of a party letting its base lead where the rest of America dared not follow. Or perhaps in 2012, when Indiana Senate nominee Richard Mourdock was sunk by an extremely ill-advised and incorrect rape comment.

However, one look at the gubernatorial ticket in Virginia shows that the tea party's dream is alive and kicking. Not only has the party nominated Ken Cuccinelli for governor – who believes that the entire social safety net is "despicable, dishonest, and worthy of condemnation"– but it has added Rev. E.W. Jackson to run for Lieutenant Governor.

Amongst Jackson's greatest hits are calling gay and lesbian Americans "sick people psychologically, mentally and emotionally"; claiming that the infamous 3/5ths clause of the Constitution was "anti-slavery"; saying that Planned Parenthood is akin to the Ku Klux Klan; and claiming that the agenda of the Democratic party is "worthy of the Antichrist."

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Tea Party.]

This was not supposed to be the plan. Though Cuccinelli is an avowed culture warrior and tea party darling, he has been staying away from those issues on the campaign trail, instead focusing on jobs and the economy. But as Jamelle Bouie explains at the American Prospect, Jackson's inclusion on the ticket is going to make that strategy a lot harder to pull off:

Ken Cuccinelli's plan for winning the Virginia gubernatorial race is straightforward. Avoid outspoken statements on social issues—the same ones that alienate most Virginians but excite his rightwing base—and focus the campaign on jobs and growth.

So far, he's done exactly that. Of his three television advertisements, for example none mention abortion or same-sex marriage … E.W. Jackson, the newly-minted GOP nominee for lieutenant governor, throws a huge wrench in this strategy.

As Tim Murphy detailed at Mother Jones, Jackson was able to grab the nomination because Virginia's GOP eschews a traditional primary in favor of "a one-day nominating convention packed with grassroots activists." And those activists, as they have across the country, clearly have little regard for such parochial concerns as electability in a state that voted for President Barack Obama twice and is represented in the Senate by two Democrats. "These kinds of comments are simply not appropriate, especially not from someone who wants to be a standard bearer for our party and hold the second highest elected office in our state," said the current Republican Lt. Gov., Bill Bolling, when asked about Jackson. "They feed the image of extremism, and that's not where the Republican Party needs to be."

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

Of course, Cuccinelli and Jackson may very well win. (They are running against Terry McAuliffe, after all, who doesn't inspire much in the way of excitement.) Stranger things have certainly happened.

But in the long run, consistently nominating extreme social warriors, when the country is shown to be consistently going the other way on social issues, is only going to hurt the GOP's actual policy goals. For proof of that, go say hello to Majority Leader Reid or google how the repeal of Obamacare is going.

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