Illinois’ four Republican gubernatorial hopefuls cuddled up Nov. 2 with elements of the conservative entertainment complex that has done its best to help the party lose elections.
For Illinois’ sake, let’s hope that the results of governors’ elections three days later in New Jersey and Virginia gave them a moment of pause about firing up the base at the expense of winning the general election. The Chris Christie approach will play in Peoria. Ken Cuccinelli will not.
For the uninitiated, the conservative entertainment complex (henceforth shortened to “CEC” for space’s sake), is the network of conservative cable news, blogs and talk radio that has essentially become the GOP’s de facto leader in the absence of a unifying figure.
Bruce Rauner, Kirk Dillard, Dan Rutherford and Bill Brady shared the stage with CEC stars such as blogger Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck TV host Dana Loesch and local congressman-turned-talk-radio-host Joe Walsh at the first-ever Restore Illinois summit, hosted by Americans For Prosperity.
The GOP’s experiment to create an alternate media to counter liberal bias has instead created an alternate universe – a Republican Matrix minus Agent Smith and kung fu – with disastrous results. The biggest story of the 2012 election wasn’t that the Republicans lost, but the fact that they didn’t see it coming.
Pat Quinn, one of the nation’s most unpopular governors in the polls, is vulnerable. But to paraphrase John McCain’s senior 2008 campaign strategist, conservatism with a snarl – the product much of the CEC sells – will do in deep-blue Illinois what it has done elsewhere, namely repel the independent voters needed to win.
The CEC goes unchecked in pushing the concept that only the most ideologically pure conservatives can triumph, which has resulted in a long list of Looney-Tunes candidates winning primaries and going on to lose elections.
Christie, a compromise-minded governor who was excoriated by fellow Republicans for not putting party loyalty ahead of constituents who were cold, wet and hungry after a historic superstorm, won New Jersey handily. Cuccinelli, a tea party darling and hard-core culture warrior, delivered yet another winnable seat for the GOP into Democratic hands.
The Virginia governor’s race was a “lesser of two evils” competition if there ever was one. Polls show that people held their noses to vote for former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe. A Libertarian third-party candidate seemed to hurt both sides equally.
McAuliffe won because he wasn’t Cuccinelli. Even uber-liberal blogger Markos Moulitsas acknowledged on Twitter after the vote that, “Republicans would’ve won VA-Gov without a tea party crazy. Probably easily.”
The GOP does have some positive takeaways from Virginia. Cuccinelli almost pulled an upset despite being consistently behind in the polls and being outspent by almost double, likely because of a bump from the godawful mess of the Obamacare rollout and those policies we were supposed to be able to keep.
Likewise, Illinois’ GOP governor hopefuls need to take some lessons from Nov. 5 if they don’t want to embarrassingly lose to Quinn and fail to end a decade of disastrous one-party Democratic rule in Springfield.
The CEC’s bread and butter of social issues and inflammatory statements is radioactive. Running on the Land of Lincoln’s impending fiscal Armageddon is plenty enough to win.
Taxpayers and businesses are fleeing Illinois in droves because they pay way too much in taxes to way too many governments that are way too large and deliver lousy services. They’re fleeing to beat the Day of Reckoning when the public employee pension systems – at least $100 billion underfunded and climbing – go bust.
They’re not fleeing Illinois because of gay marriage and abortion.
The goal of a Republican candidate is to win. The goal of the CEC is to make money, and they do that these days by saying outrageous things to get the listeners and the web hits.
Those two goals increasingly clash. Blue-state Republican candidates who want to cuddle up to the CEC would do well to remember that.
• Kevin P. Craver is senior reporter for the Northwest Herald. He has won more than 70 state and national journalism awards during his 13 years with the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4618 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.