Coulda, shoulda, woulda. But the governor may have a Plan B, if we take his off-hand remarks to the New York Times at face value.
The Times’s Jonathan Martin asked the governor if he “wanted to be president.“ McAuliffe is reported to have said, “I don’t know, I might.”
Martin also said McAuliffe is “increasingly thought to be eyeing” a presidential bid in 2020.
Any number of Democrats are probably humming “Hail to the Chief” as they go about their daily ablutions. But would McAuliffe — the glad-handing, fast-talking “tricky Terry” — really be a strong national contender?
For all of his protean abilities, and despite his winning (narrowly) the governorship of the former swing state of Virginia, McAuliffe is a Democrat from the pre-Trump era.
McAuliffe ticks many of the boxes national Democrats want to see in a presidential contender — the right views on social issues, guns, education and so on.
But he is also pro-business or, as the Slate article linked above dubs him, “perhaps the original corporate centrist Democrat.”
The party today is rooted in resistance to President Trump and is less inclined to see its candidates cozy up to business, big or small.
And, lest we forget, McAuliffe’s 2013 gubernatorial run exposed how complex and, according to Stephanie Mencimer, often “unsavory” those business relationships were.
Some might be tempted to view this as a non-issue. After all, Ken Cuccinelli, McAuliffe’s Republican opponent, was unable to make hay of McAuliffe’s checkered past in 2013. In 2020 McAuliffe, were he to become the nominee, would face an incumbent president whose past is littered with questionable deals and shady characters.
But McAuliffe’s bigger challenge on a national stage is that Democrats, generally, are all about resistance right now. And McAuliffe, the dealmaker with the shady past, is not the man to carry that banner.
McAuliffe has some of the sharpest partisan elbows in the land. In a normal political climate, those edges, plus his connections, his formidable political skills and his accomplishments as governor, would make him a compelling candidate.
The 2020 election won’t be anywhere close to normal.
If McAuliffe’s eyes are truly fixed on the White House, he will have to decide — soon — whether he wants to make the leap from “corporate centrist” to resistance leader.
It wouldn’t be an easy transition. It may strike some as a hustle.
There’s also the possibility, however remote, that another Virginian will make a run three years from now.
Not Sen. Tim Kaine, the 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee, who said he intends to burrow in to the Senate.
Rather, it could be Sen. Mark Warner, whose presidential ambitions seemingly peaked in 2008 and appeared dead after his astonishingly close reelection victory in 2014.
Warner, like McAuliffe, is not someone who looks like a resistance leader. He’s also made a political career out of his business background.
But Warner has something McAuliffe does not: a perch on the Senate Intelligence Committee, where he is vice chairman.
As the committee wrestles with how to investigate possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, Warner could become the real face of resistance to the Trump administration.
Warner is already playing up his role’s potential, telling the New Yorker, “This may very well be the most important thing I do in my public life.”
Quietly, and improbably, Warner may be the Virginian to watch in 2020.
The relationship between McAuliffe and Warner is long and not exactly warm. Were both to decide to test the presidential waters in 2020, it would be compelling political theater.
Norman Leahy is a political reporter for the American Media Institute and producer of the Score radio show.