What, me worry?
For many across the Commonwealth, last night’s Fairfax Chamber of Commerce debate was the first time they’ve seen Ken Cuccinelli and Terry McAuliffe on stage together. If last night’s debate made anything clear about Terry McAuliffe as a candidate, it was that he is unserious about being a candidate and about being Governor of Virginia.
Patrick Henry. Thomas Jefferson. Edmund Randolph. James Monroe. John Tyler. John Floyd. Henry Wise. James Kemper. Fitz Lee. Harry Byrd. John Battle. Jim Gilmore.
What do these men have in common? Yes, they were all Governors of Virginia. Some were founders, some served in Presidential administrations, some fought as Generals in the Civil War, some even became President of United States. But besides being governor, the one thing they all had in common was they were serious men.
If you’ve ever been around Terry McAuliffe, “serious” isn’t an adjective that immediately comes to mind. Last night was no different, as Terry worked the room at the debate before and after, grabbing hands, posing for pictures and cracking jokes. After the debate, he spent less than five of his allotted twenty minutes speaking to the media , instead choosing to yuck it up and leave early. He acted like there was nothing important going on that night, and that showed throughout the debate.
Pressed on a variety of questions, from putting a price tag on his vague package of spending increases and entitlement expansions to what he would do about gay marriage, McAuliffe gave unserious answers. On the price tag question, despite repeated point-blank questions from Chuck Todd, McAuliffe refused to answer. On gay marriage, he claimed that he would sign a bill legalizing gay marriage in Virginia. Either he didn’t care or he didn’t know – the more likely choice – that to reverse the gay marriage amendment to the Constitution would take a resolution passed by two successive General Assemblies and be followed by a referendum. The resolutions would never reach the Governor’s desk, and would take a minimum of four years. He wouldn’t be signing anything, and Cuccinelli pointed this out to him.
This gaffe followed on the heels of the Virginian-Pilot interview months ago where he refused to discuss the Governor’s cabinet, and claimed that such a fundamentally simple question was “gotcha politics.” Anything you can look up on wikipedia isn’t exactly a gotcha question.
Even if it were, normally when you get nailed on a gotcha style question you study up so you don’t get nailed on the next one. McAuliffe clearly didn’t do that. He seemed no more versed on how things work in Virginia than he did months ago. He rarely seems to have done his homework, is constantly playing fast and loose with the facts and with history, and has developed almost no serious policy proposals that stand up to even modest scrutiny.
These are the signs of an undisciplined, unserious candidate. When confronted with an area of weakness, he ignores it. When challenged on the law, he evades. When asked detailed questions, he punts. The only area of being a statewide candidate in which he has excelled is fundraising. Unfortunately, Virginia doesn’t need a Chief Fundraiser in the Governor’s mansion. We need a Chief Executive.
From all appearances, McAuliffe thinks all he needs to do is show up and not be Ken Cuccinelli and the voters of Virginia will elect him Governor. He seems to think that he can simply be a poor man’s Bill Clinton – back slapping, smiling, joking and hand shaking – and that will be enough to win him high office. What he ignores is that the backslapping, smiling personality of Bill Clinton was layered on top of a serious, smart, educated political genius. Someone who did his homework and was never caught flatfooted, except in front of a grand jury. To be a credible candidate you need to be smart and studied first – the personality comes second. And in some cases, the voters are willing to ignore your personality if they think you’re smart and studied Mitch McConnell built his career on that. But you can’t start with personality and end there. Terry seems to think you can.
Last night, if anything, demonstrated to the Commonwealth that Terry McAuliffe isn’t a serious man, and he isn’t a serious candidate. Ken Cuccinelli, on the other hand, for all his faults, knows the job and understands what people are going to expect from him if he’s elected governor. He exudes competence, and has never, throughout this campaign, appeared unprepared. It is his serious approach to this job, his competence and his willingness to be prepared that I find far more persuasive about him than personality or ideology. Cuccinelli will make a good governor because he will work at it. McAuliffe gives no such reassurance.
When you clear away the attack ads, the fearmongering about Cuccinelli’s record, the Star Scientific nonsense, and the rest, you are left with a choice between two men: one who has done his homework, who is experienced and who understands the job, and one who has dedicated his life to serving Virginia and her people. The other is Terry McAuliffe.
We don’t need any more unserious candidates in Virginia.