After four years of scraping, Virginia’s press corps believes it has finally chipped Gov. Bob McDonnell’s teflon. It turns out McDonnell’s weaknesses weren’t his policy ideas, his political moves, or even his graduate school thesis. The Governor’s armor was weakest where it is for most of us: his family.
The Washington Post has a lengthy story based upon staff emails acquired through Freedom of Information Act requests, showing disarray and disagreement over a Governor’s Mansion luncheon for Star Scientific, organized by First Lady Maureen McDonnell. This comes on the heels of a Post story on Monday that shows Mrs. McDonnell acted as a paid consultant to a charity affiliated with a coal company.
And lurking in the background is the court case involving the former Governor’s Mansion chef, Todd Schneider, who is accused of pilfering from the Mansion’s larder. In response, Schneider’s defense team has dragged the McDonnell children into the case, saying they, too, had sticky fingers (and let’s not forget the payment for the wedding reception of one of McDonnell’s daughters, paid for by the same man who ran Star Scientific).
It’s a jumble of accusations, charges and unforced errors, all of which will be sorted out in good time (recall that the AG’s office has set Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring to investigate some of these matters). This could take months. But resolution is almost beside the point now. The real matter is McDonnell is wounded (or appears to be), and the press is having a field day. It is, after all, very good copy.
While some of us wish that Virginia’s press corps would spend even a tenth of this effort looking into the rumored beach house cavorting of Sen. Mark Warner, or, if political family members truly are fair game, the possible explosive antics of the Tim Kaine’s children, such digging is unlikely to occur. Doesn’t fit the narrative, you see. And for all those other electeds faults — real, rumored and otherwise — McDonnell is the one who is on the spit now. He’s the one with possible higher political ambitions (or very possibly not), he’s the one they have been looking to “get” for years. Now, at long last, he could be within their grasp.
But even if they have him, what will they do with him? If McDonnell decides he is done with elected office (and after all this, who could possibly blame him), then the accusations will become nothing more than footnotes. They will be very useful, however, should McDonnell change his mind and seek office in the future.
And perhaps that is another underlying theme in all this. People like Bob McDonnell. Despite all the investigations, allegations and news stories, McDonnell retains high favorable ratings. He could even give Mark Warner a serious run in 2014.
A truly cynical version of all this, then, is that we are witnessing battles pace preparation. Investigate, charge, muddy and otherwise sully McDonnell as much as possible — drive him from the stage, never to return – so Mark has an easier, clearer path to victory next year. No. That’s too cynical, even for me. Couldn’t possibly be true. Even in the slightest.