Forgive me if I am underwhelmed by Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling’s announcement that he won’t run as a Republican gubernatorial candidate, though he left the door open to an independent challenge against hard-charging Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli and a to-be-determined Democrat. In the process, he had harsh words for Cuccinelli.
The latest episode in this soap opera has been a long time coming. It seems to be airing now because the presidential election is over, and we all know the results. Other than that, Bolling’s actions seem strange.
For starters, Bolling never had much of a chance against Cuccinelli. The establishment candidate was riding the coattails of Robert F. McDonnell, the state’s photogenic and popular governor, who because of the state’s quirky one-term-and-out law cannot succeed himself.
The Republican pols tried to set up Bolling as a nice man who was “the Jobs Guy.” His effect on job creation was modest, however.
Given that thin resume, all Bolling could do was try to bask in McDonnell’s glory, which unfortunately has become a bit tarnished. Dashing his high hopes for national prominence, McDonnell did not get the vice presidential nod from Mitt Romney, for whom he then could not deliver Virginia. Another ally, George Allen, was soundly beaten by Tim Kaine in the race for the Senate.
McDonnell’s actual record over the past three years has been mixed at best. He lost his fight to privatize state alcohol stores. His plans to make Virginia “the Energy Capital of the East Coast” have gone nowhere. His budget balancing efforts brought criticism that he was shifting payments to the next fiscal year.
There’s also clearly been some long-simmering animosity between McDonnell and Cuccinelli, who consistently upstaged the governor politically with his aggressive, socially conservative agenda. Riding the now-ebbing Tea Party wave, he’s bashed gays and climate change worriers and pushed a tough anti-abortion policy. While running in 2009, McDonnell got tagged as something of a social Neanderthal for a thesis he wrote years ago. He’s been trying to live it down ever since, but Cuccinelli gladly served as a constant reminder of it.
A turning point came last winter, when several dozen people, mostly women, were arrested at the State Capitol protesting proposed laws requiring ultrasound exams for women seeking abortions. Virginia won unwanted national attention for an incident that seemed like a throwback to the state’s darker, segregationist days of a half a century ago. It may have been a factor in the state voting for Obama.
The flip side to all this, though, is that the Democrats don’t have a strong field. Sen. Mark Warner, a former and popular governor, says he isn’t interested in his old job. Democratic Party wheeler-dealer Terry McAuliffe has baggage to shed. Former Rep. Tom Perriello has good ideas but may be considered too liberal unless he can recast himself as a pro-business moderate.
Still, one wonders why Bolling decided to throw his temper-tantrum now. None of this stuff is exactly new. His outburst seems more visceral than intellectual, showing the GOP has a lot more thinking to do if they want to get back in the game.