Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) has had a pretty good run.
He was elected in a high-profile race in 2009, he’s building his brand as a popular governor and chairman of the Republican Governors Association, and to top it all off, his party won enough state Senate seats in November to give it full control of Virginia’s government.
So things are going great for a guy who has made little secret that he fashions himself a potential 2012 vice presidential candidate, right?
Not so fast.
In recent weeks, McDonnell’s newly emboldened Republican legislature has moved on some controversial measures to combat abortion. First, the House of Delegates passed a “personhood” bill, which would have defined life as starting at conception; it was defeated by the state Senate on Thursday. The personhood issue is so riddled with political risk that the people of Mississippi — which Gallup recently ranked as the most conservative state — voted down a similar measure on the November ballot by a double-digit margin. McDonnell had said he had serious concerns about the legality of the Virginia bill but had not formally taken a position on it.
Then came another highly controversial bill, one that probably would have forced women to undergo a “transvaginal ultrasound” before obtaining an abortion. If you think any politician wants to talk about “transvaginal ultrasounds,” we’ve got some ocean-front property to sell you in Arizona. McDonnell, who initially favored the bill, made big news by changing his position this past week. To his political credit, he got the legislature to back off as well, saving him the trouble of having to decide whether to sign the bill, had it reached his desk.
But the damage was done: The governor, while broadly popular, will make no friends in the conservative movement with his decision.
Conservative commentator Erick Erickson summed it up well on Twitter: “I think Bob McDonnell has handled himself badly on this bill in VA. Conservatives who long suspected he was a closet moderate are grumbling.”
There was no winning in this situation for McDonnell. He could either marginalize himself with the middle by supporting the bills, making himself a less attractive vice presidential candidate in the process, or he could oppose the legislation, making social conservatives groan but keeping his national ambitions alive. Either way, his choice was going to sting.
Robert McDonnell, for having your vice presidential resume jeopardized by members of your own party pushing unhelpful legislation, you had the worst week in Washington. Congrats, or something.
Aaron Blake is a Washington Post political reporter. Have a candidate for the Worst Week in Washington? E-mail Chris Cillizza at firstname.lastname@example.org.