Pat Robertson’s Manchurian Candidate

Bob McDonnell and his mentor Pat Robertson in 2007

Bob McDonnell and his mentor Pat Robertson in 2007

Last summer, after Virginia state Senator Creigh Deeds crushed his rivals in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, a veteran Democratic consultant named Lowell Feld offered the Deeds campaign some advice. Feld told me he urged Deeds to immediately launch an attack campaign painting his Republican rival, state Attorney General Bob McDonnell, as “Pat Robertson’s Manchurian Candidate.” If Deeds wavered, Feld was convinced McDonnell could make inroads in the liberal-leaning but fiercely competitive suburbs of Northern Virginia.

While many Republican candidates pander to the Christian right to win elections in evangelical-heavy states, McDonnell has done exactly the opposite in the Virginia governor’s race: He’s appealing to the sensibilities of comparatively moderate Northern Virginian voters. But that’s not because he’s a moderate. In fact, McDonnell is a consummate culture warrior; a graduate of Pat Robertson’s law school, Regent University, and a personal friend of the far-right televangelist, who donated heavily to his past campaigns.

During an appearance on Robertson’s 700 Club in 2007, McDonnell said his four years at Regent “gave me the insight about what our Founders believed about government and about their view of the Constitution that I’ve been carrying with me on the job today.”

Instead of following Feld’s advice, the Deeds campaign spent the dog days of June and July raising money. By the time Deeds engaged McDonnell on abortion in August—the Republican has opposed the practice even in cases of rape and incest—the smooth-talking, telegenic McDonnell was already scoring big with swing voters on transportation and economic issues. McDonnell’s success has instilled the national GOP with newfound confidence, prompting Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele to hail him as the “flower of new leadership” and the vanguard of a “Republican renaissance.”

Deeds appeared to gain new life when McDonnell’s damaging graduate thesis surfaced in early September. The candidate himself, perhaps in a moment of pride, mentioned it in passing to a Washington Post reporter, a foolish mistake that sparked her curiosity. Voters were thus exposed to an impassioned manifesto that read like a manual for implementing theocracy. In the 93-page document, McDonnell denounced working women as “detrimental for the family,” called on the government to favor married couples over “cohabitators, homosexuals, or fornicators,” and attacked a Supreme Court decision legalizing birth control for married couples. [W]hen the exercise of liberty takes the shape of pornography, drug abuse, or homosexuality,” McDonnell proclaimed, “the government must restrain, punish, and deter.”

Despite a concerted effort by the Deeds campaign to present McDonnell’s thesis as his “blueprint for governing,” McDonnell remains the clear favorite to win. With only two weeks until Election Day, he is leading by as much as seven points in mostrecent polls.

Unlike many Christian-right candidates, his image is easily relatable to suburban independents. During his appearance on the 700 Club, McDonnell revealed himself as a stealth candidate who learned through Robertson’s mentoring to conceal his hard-right ideology behind a moderate veneer. “[Regent] taught me the real importance of being a Christian elected official,” he remarked. “It’s not just what you say but it’s also the style of how you say it and acting in a degree of civility…without compromising principle.”

According to Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, McDonnell has successfully exploited his genial image to outmaneuver Deeds in the state’s key swing districts. “Virginian independents vote on who holds a drink better, who can converse with a wide variety of people in a clever way,” Sabato told me. “So whoever passes what I call the suburban cocktail party test usually wins. And McDonnell passes with flying colors.”

For his part, Deeds hails from Bath County, a rural enclave worlds away from the gleaming office parks of Fairfax, which McDonnell claims as his hometown. Deeds delivers his talking points with a clumsy stutter and a heavy rural twang, even admitting in his last debate he was “not the best speaker on this stage.” While some pundits have cast Deeds’ sagging numbers as a repudiation of Obama’s economic agenda, Sabato held the candidate responsible for his own plight.

“I have known Creigh for a long time and I like him. But he is not terribly articulate and frankly, his performance has been embarrassing,” Sabato said. “Voters make split-second decisions based on sound bites and they have reacted negatively to Deeds.”

Sabato added that historic trends favor Republicans in Virginia the year after Obama’s victory. “You can call it a Republican resurgence if you want,” he remarked, “but if we had a presidential turnout this year, Deeds would win. Instead, the Republicans are excited because they’re tired of losing and they want to send a message.”

Sabato predicted that as many as 1 million of the Democrats—primarily first-time voters, the young, and minorities—who showed up to deliver Obama a record number of votes, will not even bother to vote this year. Because Virginia is a competitive political environment with a diverse population, this year’s governor’s race may reflect broader national trends heading into the 2010 congressional midterm elections.

While Obama has stumped for Deeds and plans to make another trip to the Old Dominion, many local Democratic insiders have all but given up on him. They worry that if he loses by more than three points, hard-right Republican candidates will dominate down-ticket races. Among the new crop of right-wing upstarts is Barbara Comstock, a conservative flack running for the House of Delegates. While in Washington, Comstock helped run Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s defense fund and served as the communications director for George W. Bush’s Department of Justice, working with Regent University graduate Monica Goodling to install political cadres as U.S. attornies throughout the department.

“Comstock is bringing tons of money in,” Feld said, “and if Deeds gets his ass kicked, she is very likely to win.”

Even more worrisome for Virginia Democrats is the prospect of Ken Cuccinelli winning the attorney general’s race. Cuccinelli is a Catholic traditionalist who has accused pro-choice advocates of “killing…the children.” He recently boasted that he is the most conservative candidate to run for statewide office in his lifetime. Anoutspoken ally of the Tea Party Patriots, Cuccinelli has announced he was “considering” not getting Social Security numbers for his eight children because the government program “is being used to track you.”

“If McDonnell wins big,” Sabato stated, “Cuccinelli gets in on his coattails.”

Whatever the margin of victory is on November 3, McDonnell is likely to interpret a victory as a blessing from heaven—and set his sights on higher office. “There are other opportunities out there,” he told Robertson in 2007. “But what I can do now is be the best attorney general I can be. If I do that, the Lord will open other doors for me.”

4 thoughts on “Pat Robertson’s Manchurian Candidate

  1. Dessalines

    This scares the hell out of me. This is another example of Democrats voting for people in the primary that they believe will be acceptable to Republicans instead of someone that will electrify their constituents. Republicans always leave Virginia a mess.

  2. darwindad

    This is the same pattern that happened in my school district, Vista Unified School District in 1992. Three stealth candidates were elected to the board. One of them was an employee of the Institute for Creation Research which at that time was located 40 minutes south of us.

    The three made a majority on our board. The first school board meeting where they had a majority creationism was brought up. The next meeting a fact free sex education program called Sex Respect was brought up. They turned down multi million dollar federal government grants that district employees had worked for years to obtain because they did not want those federal government strings attached.

    Their own children did not attend our district schools. Their children were home taught or in little church schools.

    Within three months a robust recall campaign was begun. They were recalled two years later but not before making national headlines and the front pages of the New York Times, LATimes, and SF Chronicle. We had overflow school board meetings with hundreds in attendence. Satellite cable trucks and reporters from CNN. It was a wild time.

    After the Anti-public education group was defeated in the recall of 1994, I thought they were done. But I was wrong. They kept coming back every two years at each subsequent school board election campaign.

    They have not since been able to get a majority on our board but have held two positions in almost every election.

    They also have stopped new school bonds from being passed in our district. Because of California state law requiring two thirds majority for school bonds to pass. They have successfully used their minority status to get 40% or 37% or 34 % of the vote which caused the bonds to fail even thought the clear majority of voters wanted new schools..

    When we did finally get a bond passed, the two ANTI minority members used another stupid California law that requires four out of five board members to approve land purchases to stop the purchase of land to build our needed third high school for another six years.

    These folks are terrified of FACT based public education and the schools which provide FACT based science, history and sex education courses.

    With their zealotry they were able to control the local San Diego County Republican Party. With that control of the County Republican organization, they were able to funnel money and donors from throughout the county to their anti public education school candidates in our local school board elections.

    They ran training camps for potential candidates for local officies where the only participants allowed to attend were those who had a local pastor who would affirm in a phone call that they were members in good standing of his church. Of course that church had to be one of the “right” churches, not all churches had the correct religious views to send candidates.

    I suspect some of their fundings has come from the Waltons of Walmart. A few of Sam Walton’s family members live in San Diego.

    Tim LaHaye of Left Behind series used to have a church in San Diego from which he then founded the Christian Heritage College now called San Diego Christian College–the place Carrie Prejean attends. A college that is ACCREDITED! Yet does not teach evolution but according to their website does teach a class that they call Invertabrate (sic) Zooloogy. Christian Heritage spun off the Institute of Creation Research that for years was located locally in a city to the south of us, Santee.

    Recently ICR has moved to Texas where it is demanding accredidation. The state of Texas amazingly has not rolled over and has pushed back.

    Carrie Prejean is a graduate of Vista High School where both my sons attended and where the word evolution was mentioned on only ONE day during the entire 180 day school year of the required freshman Introduction to Biology.

    I know why the High School teachers chose to de-emphasize the central organizing principle of biology, evolution, in their biology classes as I was a middle school science teacher in the district for years. The only way I could teach evolution was by showing my local site administrator, in charge of science at our school, that evolution and human evolution were in the California State Curriculum Guide (since then human evolution has been stripped out of the new State Standards in Science that replaced the State Curriculum Guide)

    Nevertheless Parents called in regularly to complain to my site administrator and district administrator that I was teaching the religion of evolution. They began to see me as evil and looked for other kinds of complaints that they could make. Their children tried to disrupt my class during our two week unit on evolution using the ‘disruptive questions’ method taught by and advocated for by the Institute of Creation Research. Classroom problems multiplied each year even more during my next two week unit which was human evolution. So I know it is far easier for a teacher to ignore the “E” word or say ‘its just a theory” . Other paths lead to career problems. There were only three out of five of the middle school science teachers at my school who taught evolution.

    The ANTI public education candidates who were religious zealots hid what they believe until elected and then they created chaos in our district. Even with the chaos they caused, a few folks still support them because they get the Republican County endorsement every year and we live in the most Republican part of a Republican County. (Given that you might think they would win every time especially as we have three Mega Churches in town but even among Republicans and Christians these folks are wearing out their welcome)

    Thankfully their support is finally shrinking, we have only one left on our board. Last year he unsuccessfully tried to name a “Carrie Prejean Day” in our district to honor Carrie Prejean’s “accomplishments”. Now that he is alone on our board, he got no second and the matter was dropped but not until our local right wing newspaper had done several stories and editorials about Carrie Prejean Day.

    I watched George W. Bush’s campaign in 2000 and recognized all the same components. Look what he did to the country.

    These folks need to be stopped.

    I feel like we in San Diego should apologize to the rest of the country. Much of the nuttiness that has swept the nation started here. On behalf of the rest of the County of San Diego, I do apologize to you all. We were not able to recognize them early enough and stop them.

    I am still fighting the weekly battles and skirmishes with the folks we call the ANTIs in the on line comment sections following education articles in our local newspaper, the North County Times as blogger “con no more”

    We call them ANTIs locally as a political decision because many who would never support their views would jump on their side if they were attacked as Republicans, or conservatives or Christians. And besides they are ANTI everything, ANTI public education, ANTI fact based science, ANTI fact based history, ANTI sex education, ANTI gay, ANTI government grants, ANTI school bonds, and ANTI immigrant.

    The battles with the ANTIs go on locally. i have taken to calling the series of battles, the VUSD Wars, which seems appropriate given the strenghth of emotions. If you wish to read my responses to our local ANTIs attacks on our schools, you can read them by going to:
    http://www.vistaschools.blogspot.com.

  3. aview999

    Scary is right. (pun intended) Thank you Max – still waiting on “my” library getting it’s 1st copy, which I ordered!

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