Cuccinelli presses Republicans to 'pivot' back to conservative principles

While many Republicans have called for the party to seek the middle following their 2012 losses, the GOP’s standard-bearer in the key swing state of Virginia wants the party to double down on its conservative ideals.

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"I think we should pivot back to principles,” Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R), the party’s nominee for governor in 2013, told The Hill. 

“The reason Obama is the president in the first place is Republicans failed to lead in the first half of the last decade," Cuccinelli said. "We need to get back to showing the American people why they work, how they work."

Despite Virginia’s trend towards Democrat — Obama carried the state in 2008 and 2012 — Cuccinelli said he won’t move away from his fiercely conservative beliefs. 

He says states must stand up to what he views as a federal government that is overreaching to an unconstitutional degree. 

Cuccinelli lays out that argument in his new book The Last Line of Defense: The New Fight for American Liberty.

Cuccinelli has long considered himself a front line soldier in that defense.

As Virginia’s attorney general, he led the legal assault on President Obama’s healthcare law, pushing for it to be ruled unconstitutional. 

He has also routinely taken on the Environmental Protection Agency, which he derisively referred to as the “employment prevention agency” in the interview.

“I campaigned very explicitly on pushing back on the federal government if they overstepped the bounds of the Constitution. I just never thought I’d have so many opportunities,” Cuccinelli said.

He promised to continue the fight if elected governor — and contrasted that with the style of former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe, who is the Democrats’ de facto nominee.

“I’m running against a deal-maker. That’s Terry McAuliffe’s whole claim to fame is he wants to make deals,” he said. “That’s a pretty stark contrast.”

Cuccinelli slammed the federal government’s regulations, saying they hurt the economy.

“This sort of across-the-board regulatory assault we’re seeing from this administration hurts poor people first and poor people worst. Some people forget that. It’s as unavoidable as gravity,” he said. 

“While this administration has been the most brazen and aggressive in breaking the law and violating the Constitution, they aren’t the first. This has been a bipartisan undertaking for a number of years and that’s why the founders left to the states this position of defending the Constitution.”

He also sounded the alarm that the federal government was on an unsustainable spending path and needed to be reined in — even as he admitted that could hurt Virginia’s economy.

He said the looming “sequester" cuts to the military and other programs are “not a policy” and would disproportionately affect Virginia because of its heavy government presence.

“No doubt Virginia is going to take a hit on all of this,” he said. “The federal government at some point has to spend within its means and Virginia, no doubt, with one third of its economy based on federal jobs, will take a hit on that. We need to have a tax structure in our state so that when that does happen we can try to keep the businesses here, lure them to stay in Virginia rather than go back to wherever they came from.”

Cuccinelli pushed back against critics who say one passage in his book echoes Mitt Romney’s now-infamous “47 percent” remarks.

In the book, he wrote that “sometimes bad politicians set out to grow government in order to increase their own power and influence.”

“This phenomenon doesn’t just happen in Washington; it happens at all levels of government. The amazing thing is that they often grow government without protest from citizens, and sometimes they even get buy-in from citizens — at least from the ones getting the goodies,” he wrote. “One of their favorite ways to increase their power is by creating programs that dispense subsidized government benefits, such as Medicare, Social Security, and outright welfare (Medicaid, food stamps, subsidized housing, and the like). These programs make people dependent on government. And once people are dependent, they feel they can’t afford to have the programs taken away, no matter how inefficient, poorly run, or costly to the rest of society.”

Cuccinelli told The Hill he was not attacking Social Security and Medicare themselves, but that they were used as political weapons. He referred to the “Medi-scare” attacks on Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) plan to overhaul Medicare and called for the programs to be changed so they can remain solvent heading into the future.

“It’s not correct to read what I wrote as an attack on Social Security and Medicare — I used them as examples of how politicians use these programs as political clubs to beat people with,” he said.

He also said he disagreed with Romney’s “47 percent” remarks.

“I totally reject that whole line of thought and discussion by the Democrats and the comments made by Gov. Romney. If I remember correctly he said 47 percent of people are dependent on government and therefore we can’t get their votes,” he said. “I don’t believe that, I don’t think there’s a single person in Virginia whose vote I can’t go after.”

Cuccinelli said he was still frustrated that the Supreme Court had ruled that Obama’s healthcare plan was constitutional.

"Amazingly, the chief justice rewrote the law to be a tax increase, which is something the Congress moved it explicitly away from. This was a really unusual act of judicial activism," Cuccinelli said.

Cuccinelli also ridiculed groups like Karl Rove’s new Conservative Victory Project super-PAC, which plans to get involved to stop candidates it views as too conservative to win general elections.

“Somebody, somewhere, has always told me I couldn’t win the race I was in … These outside groups can do what they want, if they want to go after conservatives, conservatives have the right to fight back,” he said. “It’s a competition. It shouldn’t surprise grassroots conservatives a lot of big money interests don’t want them to win.”

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