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The Great Divide

Populists versus elitists in the Republican party.

Nov 18, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 10 • By FRED BARNES
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Their advice makes sense. In response to the torrent of Democratic ads, Cuccinelli might have targeted McAuliffe’s position on abortion and dubbed him the “real extremist.” McAuliffe supports abortion on demand with no exceptions. So he was vulnerable.

At one point, the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List conducted a focus group of Democratic-leaning women. They hadn’t a clue about McAuliffe’s stand on abortion. When informed, they were appalled. Told of this, Cuccinelli still declined to go on offense against McAuliffe on abortion.

Two other troubles for Republicans were exposed in last week’s election. One is the GOP slide in the suburbs. Cuccinelli got clobbered in Fairfax County, the big, wealthy suburb outside Washington. Republicans don’t have to win a majority of the Fairfax vote to win statewide in Virginia. Roughly 43 or 44 percent will do. Cuccinelli got 36 percent. Four years ago, Republican governor Bob McDonnell carried Fairfax. 

Since 2010, a divide between Republican populists and elitists has been growing. It’s likely to grow more in the wake of the national GOP’s failure to fund Cuccinelli’s campaign in the closing weeks and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s intervention in an Alabama congressional primary to defeat a Christian conservative with Tea Party leanings.

Populist Republicans blame Cuccinelli’s loss on establishment Republicans for abandoning him in October. In truth, they had an excuse. A month out, Cuccinelli looked like a loser. Once the Obamacare issue took off, however, he could have used their support. The money they put into Christie’s campaign, which Christie didn’t need, could have been shifted to Cuccinelli’s.

A populist backlash against what happened in Alabama didn’t erupt immediately, but it’s likely to. That means Republicans are probably in for a rough season of primary clashes, conventional Republicans versus insurgents, in 2014. It could get ugly.

At least Republicans won’t have to worry about Christie. He’s riding high. He’s on his way toward a bid for the Republican presidential nomination. No surprise there.

Fred Barnes is an executive editor at The Weekly Standard.

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