by Paul Goldman
Governor McDonnell’s muted public reaction to the Senate budget stalemate strikes me as surprising given his need – or so one would think – to make some political noise that doesn’t start with the word “ultrasound.” Perhaps he is playing possum; if so, it is a good act. If the shoe were on the other foot, I have to believe Mark Warner and Tim Kaine would have the Governor’s plane fueled up and ready for a fly-around on Monday, pointing out all the weak links they thought were in the GOP’s proposed amendments.
I confess total surprise at McDonnell not going around the state explaining why he isn’t going to give into a tax gas hike or some budget busting. Last I checked, the Senate Dems don’t have a plane nor 90% name ID with the voters – and popular name ID at that.
So what gives? I see three basic possibilities here.
One, the Senate Dems have outmaneuvered the Governor behind the scenes. There is no way to know – it isn’t public – but I am beginning to think Big Mac (Donald McEachin) and Little Richard (Dick Saslaw) have made some progress here, helped by the old lions of the body who are less partisan then the younger players. If the Senate Dems have managed to move the ball to where a deal that these older players can live is doable, then it would probably make sense for McDonnell to go long so he can concentrate on running for VP. Let’s give this a 30% possibility, which is way higher than anyone could have predicted.
Two, it’s possible that the Governor has simply blinked; he doesn’t want a big fight, he likes his polling numbers right now, and he isn’t looking for any high drama, just over and done with. This would suggest keeping the public rhetoric to a minimum, working behind the scenes, looking for a deal, figuring the more you are publicly calling out the Dems, then they have to counter punch and soon the bad feelings make a deal harder. Besides, under this scenario, you could lose the “spin” and now you got a mess you don’t need. I give this a 20% possibility.
Three, McDonnell’s inner circle is divided on how the Governor best uses the stalemate. There would be three camps. The ones hoping to launch McDonnell on the national scene would figure the image of “Fighting Bob”, standing up for lower taxes and spending against the “liberal” Democrats, is a winner for him with key GOP players around the country looking for a VP candidate who can do the dirty work. That’s Bob’s missing resume for VP — the “bad” cop bona fides.
On the other hand, the key to making McDonnell VP is good polling numbers in Virginia, although the recent poll said McD didn’t help Romney in Virginia (truth is, nothing will right now). This means the Virginia political guys have a lot of sway in the debate, since they get credit for the Governor’s high marks.
But we’ve got to figure they are conflicted too. McDonnell has been successful by seeming to be a low drama guy who concentrates on governing. Thus, the “Fighting Bob” thing might not appeal to them. On the other hand, they’ve got to be worried about the whole ultrasound thing. So getting the low tax, low spending Bob out front for a week has to be appealing and figures to help with the polling numbers. But again, it does go against his image and so, while appealing, it is also not so appealing. Confusing, right? Yes it is.
Then you’ve got the McDonnell governing guys, who have to run the state. They don’t much care about the politics. They just want a deal because it makes their life easier. I am thinking #3 is a 50% possibility.
Bottom line: My own gut says the Governor has bought the narrative I first predicted at least a year ago in my Richmond Times Dispatch piece comparing him to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. I suggested come 2012, all the New Jersey flash would fade in terms of the party thinking the steady, competent image of McDonnell played better as VP.
My sense: This is where the Governor’s head is at. He buys the anti-Christie, no flash image. Thus, he would like to settle the budget stalemate fast, and without his mounting a fly-around campaign, playing the conservatives against the liberals. The partisan game doesn’t appeal to him like it once did.
Net, net: After ultrasound, I really thought “Fighting Bob” would come out swinging on the basis of it being a no-loser political opportunity to reboot the narrative. But he sure isn’t giving off that vibe right now.
I didn’t see this coming really.
Why? Because if you don’t go the “Fighting Bob” route at least a little, it gives Big Mac and Little Richard a lot more leverage in the game. But if the Governor’s folks are divided, then Big Mac and Little Richard have an opening to conquer.
If they pull this off, then they should head out to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker, because you have to know how to bluff to win there.