After that, those considerable energies will be totally and completely focused on doing what hasn’t been done in half a century: winning a second gubernatorial term.
But what about the idea of McAuliffe taking a cabinet post if Biden wins the presidency? Surely, McAuliffe wouldn’t turn down both an offer from his old friend and the opportunity to pad his already voluminous contact list, right?
I certainly thought it would be the best alternative for McAuliffe, considering the impressive list of Democratic gubernatorial contenders and changed political circumstances in Virginia.
But McAuliffe recently made clear he prefers to return to Richmond, telling Virginia Public Media: "'I like executive leadership,' McAuliffe said. ‘You never say never, but being in someone’s Cabinet — I’m not sure that’s the best use of my time.’”
What’s more appealing, McAuliffe said, is leading Virginia’s economic recovery as governor, touting job growth and a budget surplus under his tenure as governor.
Being governor again does sound appealing compared to, say, being an at-will employee in someone else’s political shop.
But if the shade of Mills Godwin — the only man voters elected twice as governor, first as a Democrat, then as a Republican — could speak, it might tell McAuliffe that while second terms make mildly interesting historical footnotes, they can be dispiriting affairs. Godwin had to contend with an energy crisis, an environmental disaster, a fractious General Assembly and more in his second term — a far cry from the sweeping successes of his first term.
McAuliffe’s potential return would come in the aftermath of a pandemic that, in all likelihood, will have reshaped large portions of the economy. The globe-hopping, dealmaking McAuliffe of yore may have trouble adjusting to a world less amenable to trade deals and more interested in trade barriers.
Virginia is still heavily reliant on federal spending, which may help the commonwealth weather the current economic downturn more successfully than other states. But if the federal government, which is increasing debt at an eye-watering pace, is forced to reduce expenditures in the near future, a second-term McAuliffe may have to relive the bad old days of sequestration and budget cuts.
Is that a challenge McAuliffe might like to accept? Sure. He’s seen bad times and overcome them, and he may be able to do so again.
But there are also the more profound political changes that have happened since McAuliffe left office. Medicaid has been expanded, Democrats control the General Assembly, and Republicans seem determined to cement their status as the minority party.
McAuliffe can claim credit for some of these things. Let’s not forget that when Gov. Ralph Northam (D) went into a self-imposed exile over the still-unexplained medical school yearbook photo, it was McAuliffe who filled the campaigning role Northam couldn’t in the critical 2019 General Assembly elections.
A century ago, McAuliffe’s actions would have confirmed his place as Virginia’s new political boss. No one would have dared deny him a second run for governor. But the very political success McAuliffe helped engineer created Democrats who won’t subordinate their ambitions to anyone.
Jennifer Carroll Foy (D-Prince William) already made clear what she thinks about a McAuliffe return: “The politics of the past are not change we need, and the politicians of the past won’t save us.”
McAuliffe wants to run again. But if he does, the path to the nomination won’t look anything like his 2013 coronation. It may instead look more like the 2009 slugfest he had with state Sen. Creigh Deeds and former delegate Brian Moran.
McAuliffe finished second.