by Paul Goldman
In NCAA basketball terms, Governor McDonnell doesn’t play a run-and-gun offense. Instead, he brings the ball up the court, calls a set play, and tries to execute the way it drew out on the locker room chalk board. He doesn’t motion for the rest of the team to clear out, so he can do a one-on-one, “take it to hoop”/”in your face,” so to speak.
Or, to put another way: the McDonnell strategy is to avoid both the big play and the big mistake. If someone is going to score 55 points with a Hall of Fame game and beat you, so be it. Governor McDonnell’s strategy is to not beat yourself. So, on the ABC fight or the Confederate History month controversy, or any number of things, you cut your losses at some point; you aren’t going to be like Kevin Costner in the movie Tin Cup, one of the best golf flicks ever.
But then came ultrasound. Once it became a self-evident busted play, I figured – said so right here – that Bob McDonnell would quickly see the wisdom of cutting his losses. That he did. Then I figured, after noodling it out, that the Governor would further conclude to pack it all in, feed the GOP beast with something else, cut ultrasound loose for 2012 and put the noise behind you.
I was wrong. Instead of using Senator Vogel’s towel toss as a way to say “no mas,” McDonnell decided to make his play with an amended bill to be signed into law. As indicated previously, I don’t get the politics of that play. It is lose-lose in my analysis.
So I ask myself: What did the kid miss here?
The polls show Governor McDonnell to be highly popular, and this political success isn’t by accident. He knows something, so why did he come to what seems to be the wrong conclusion?
It doesn’t seem the right play to go to the mat for ultrasound-lite when, in the end, this keeps the issue alive. Despite the “compromise,” the bottom line for McDonnell is this: you mandated a medical procedure, that gives your opponents this narrative, and for what possible political or medical benefit? None that I can see.
The puzzlement continues. So this question seems fair to ask now: Has the ultrasound fight thrown Governor McD off his game?
The first time you try to drive to the hoop and get bashed to the floor can be a game changer for any athlete. I can still remember. It got me to spend two hours a day practicing a wicked 15-20 foot jumper…swoosh! I could hit it. No going inside for this little dude. I would rather take a hard three than go for an easy deuce. That’s why they made little guys right?
So, yeah, I sacrificed an NBA career, but not the European Tour.
The point being: That first hard hit can change a player.
Until ultrasound, Governor McD had never taken a real hit on the national political level. To the contrary, he had led a charmed life.
There are those who claim the flaws in the original ultrasound were “obvious.” Those of us who might actually have a record of achievement to make such a claim would be the last ones to ever do it, because we understand how difficult the game actually can be, and how 20/20 hindsight doesn’t impress anyone who plays the game in real time.
So my analysis of the Governor starts when he realized he would need to deal with the growing clamor from ultrasound. What those with 20/20 hindsight fail to understand is that the politics started right then, because he had the option of turning lemons into lemonade.
He could have killed ultrasound right there, and perhaps with the right PR turn the play into one of those rare three pointers with a foul shot!
Instead, the Governor decided to seek a middle ground. That wasn’t a bad strategy at the moment, as the primary need was to get out from under the original ultrasound bill since it was now an albatross. So I always understood McD’s immediate move to the middle.
That buys time, a key political commodity. Like I say, the game doesn’t really get down to the A players until the time on the clock runs down to either you score or you don’t.
Within 24 hours, however, it was clear the middle ground wouldn’t save McDonnell politically in terms of the national spin nor even the statewide spin. At which point, McDonnell faced the moment of political truth. He didn’t want to be seen as giving in to the “liberals” — I get that. But the McDonnell MO had been, as with say his ABC privatizing quest, to realize the play isn’t working and go on to the next thing.
But instead, McD went with ultrasound-lite.
My take: The ultrasound fight caught the Governor flatfooted and he hasn’t gotten his dribble back quite yet.
We see this in the budget battle, in his debate with the Governor of Maryland, and other stuff in the past few weeks.
Clearly, McDonnell wants to get back to the pre-ultrasound narrative about himself. But he can’t do it yet, and like I said, that first time you drive to the paint, only to get hammered to the floor, messes your mind up for awhile.
McD got knocked down like never before on ultrasound. His confidence is shaken.
The fact is, the battle over trans-vaginal ultrasound has defined the 2012 session. McDonnell wants to run for VEEP, but his unique persona among GOP governors – steady, no drama, – has been shattered for now. McDonnell is so shaken as to initially shy away from what would otherwise be a strong advantage in a budget debate. Let’s see how that plays out.
So what happens now?
McD needs to regroup and call a new play.
Education is always the default issue to regroup. It is always the best issue for swing female voters with children, if you’ve got the street cred. The conventional wisdom would be for McD to go jobs. That shipped has sailed. This leaves education.
The smart play is to try and establish education cred between now and the Republican National Convention. The moderate women’s vote, especially younger women with children, is going to be the key for the GOP in November.
Romney is weak there, and an ultrasound governor doesn’t bring a lot to the ticket. But an education governor would.