by Paul Goldman
There is a reason why Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli hinted again yesterday about challenging LG Bill Bolling for the 2103 GOP GUV nomination: Bolling just made a potentially huge mistake. Right now, it is all a matter of game theory risk vs. game theory reward, doing the math to see whether the risk you take is commensurate with the likely reward.
It looks the LG went “Bolling Alone” by coming out early as the statewide campaign chair for the conventional winner (at the time) front runner for the 2012 GOP nomination – former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. At the time, the Mittster was thought to be “the man,” even though there was no reason by virtue of history or analysis to believe so. Now, the CW has Rick Perry in that spot, for different reasons, also open to reevaluation after the hype dies down.
But the 2013 bottom line is this: Anyway you slice it, Romney will never be a popular choice among Virginia conservative activists who dominate the party’s non-primary process for choosing the statewide ticket. Those folks are extremely conservative and they know Romney is not. Bolling is likewise at a disadvantage against Cuccinelli among this conservative posse for being the unCola to Cuccinelli, who is (as the Coca Cola ad jingle used to go) “the real thing.”
In sum, Bolling backing Romney confirms that he is not the true blue conservative GOP activists want.
In contrast, Cuccinelli has shrewdly decided not to endorse anyone right now, pointedly saying he wants to wait and see how the game plays out. This is smart: there’s no reason for Cuccinelli to endorse right now, and he maintains all his options.
What is Bill Bolling hoping to see? First, that Romney wins the GOP nomination. Then, as an insider, that he helps convince Mitt to take McDonnell as VEEP (the Mittster has already said the VA GUV is on his short list, as this author predicted months ago), In turn, the Mitt and Mac ticket takes the White House, causing Bolling to become GUV by the laws of succession.
The true math of the thing: The risks of getting a big reward by backing Romney are mathematically low, while Bolling’s backing a choice not really acceptable to true VA conservatives creates a real risk for a backlash should things not work out and should Cuccinelli decides to run for the GUV nod himself.
Even if Romney wins, he can’t choose sides in the 2013 VA GUV contest, because first of all Cuccinelli is going to campaign for the GOP nominee and also, because the heavy hand of Washington backfires in VA.
Net, net: Among activists in the GOP, Bolling is seen as the “legacy” candidate, the ultimate establishment choice, backed by the Governor because of their 2009 deal. Now, Bolling wants to say he is backed by a President Romney due to another 2011 deal?
This is a perfect foil for Cuccinelli, the anti-establishment hero of the VA GOP. Bolling needed to show his rebel side. Instead, he went establishment. It might work out for him.
But the math says Cuccinelli played it wiser according to game theory. In theory, over time, making the smarter play nets out better. So give him Round 1.