The sad fall of Bob McDonnell

bob-mcdonnellAs recently as last week, former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell was talking with reporters covering his corruption trial about perhaps running for governor again in 2017, and it wasn’t hard for at least GOP partisans to imagine that being within the realm of possibility.

McDonnell, after all, was on the short list of possible running mates for 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and when he left office in January, even as prosecutors built their corruption case against him, he was among the most popular departing governors in the history of Virginia, and for good reason. A social conservative, McDonnell ran on a platform that cast him as “Bob’s for Jobs,” and despite letting himself get diverted briefly by diehards in the General Assembly with a social-engineering agenda in 2012, he largely governed that way, falling in line with his two most immediate Democratic predecessors, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, with a focus on making sure Virginia was among the best states in the nation for business, and even outpacing them in one respect.

The transportation funding compromise that McDonnell forged in 2013, breaking a 27-year logjam, elevated McDonnell’s stature more than him being vetted for a national ticket ever could.

The future was McDonnell’s, blocked not by those pesky corruption charges, which were surely going to go away, but by the Virginia Constitution, which doesn’t allow governors to succeed themselves in office, and by the lack of higher offices to run for in the immediate future.

(Even without corruption charges on the horizon, there’s no way McDonnell risks his political star by challenging Warner’s Senate seat in 2014; he was way, way too smart to roll the dice on something that stupid.)

But a run for governor in 2017, maybe a run for the U.S. Senate in 2018, challenging Kaine, wasn’t out of the cards, and there was even a feeling that after shrugging off the corruption charges, McDonnell’s name might come up again in the national-ticket discussion in 2016.

And why not? In addition to being a popular former governor, McDonnell has an easy charm and likeability on par with a Warner or even a Bill Clinton, to a degree that even people on the other side of the aisle who couldn’t name a single policy position that they would hold in common with McDonnell could nonetheless point to his affability as a reason for wishing him future success.

Politicians with those qualities, his record, his success, in getting elected and in achieving public-policy initiatives, don’t come along every day.

Rarer still are those with the immense gifts that Bob McDonnell has who then end up facing decades in prison after being convicted on multiple counts of public corruption.

The word Wow! keeps coming to mind.

– Column by Chris Graham

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