The Virginia gubernatorial election between Ken Cuccinelli and Terry McAuliffe poses an interesting question for libertarians/constitutionalists: At what point does a libertarian-leaning conservative candidate cross that threshold to become acceptable to the libertarian base as a whole? It is a question that has not yet been adequately answered, and therefore merits discussion.
Obviously, libertarians and the liberty movement are not a monolithic group to be lumped together on every issue and nothing illustrates this point more than the large disparity in support between Ron Paul and his son Rand. Although Rand may have larger widespread support, much of it comes from voters who did not support his father.
Among those who consider themselves Ron Paul supporters, there is a split in support for Rand due to his endorsement of Mitt Romney (after his father ceased active campaigning), as well as other political differences such as Guantanamo Bay, and sanctions on Iran. While the younger Paul still advocates for libertarianism on many fronts (taxes, drones, privacy of phone records...etc.), he still faces opposition from former supporters who no longer trust him.
All of this leads to another question: Does Ken Cuccinelli, a candidate formerly endorsed by Ron Paul, have the ability to draw in votes from the liberty movement or will he not be accepted by the libertarian base?
There are many issues in which Cuccinelli lines up well with libertarians. He is a well known champion of the Second Amendment, with one or two exceptions. Back in 2010, he defended the George Mason gun ban even after he challenged the authority of the law while campaigning for Attorney General of Virginia. This could greatly weaken Cuccinelli's support among gun rights activists, especially among libertarians who tend to be the least compromising of this group.
In another case, the Republican candidate changed his position entirely with regards to voting rights for non-violent felons, Cuccinelli was not supportive of these rights being re-instated until a couple weeks ago on May 28, having previously voted against such legislation five separate times.
Acknowledging this change in position, Cuccinelli said, “When I was in the Senate, I wasn’t very supportive of the restoration of rights. I thought of it as a part of the punishment for being a felon.”
With this new position, Ken Cuccinelli actually moved away from most of his fellow Republicans and joined the libertarian ranks in defense of civil liberties.
While libertarians may appreciate the Attorney General's new position, it will likely be some time before they are able to trust him on this issue.
Interestingly enough, Cuccinelli's position on marriage could split the libertarian base. Throughout his political career, the attorney general has long supported defining marriage as being between one man and one woman in the state of Virginia. While many libertarians would point to the Tenth Amendment in defense of this position, there are others would certainly view this as an overreach of government power and a condemnation of a non-violent lifestyle.
Although these differences may be viewed differently, especially by the average Republican, the libertarian base can be quite picky about who they throw their support behind. The question, once again, is how much of a threshold is there for a candidate with libertarian leanings to be accepted or rejected by the libertarian electorate? Is Ron Paul the only candidate that can unify the libertarian base on the level of millions of voters?
On behalf of libertarianism; I hope not.