(UPDATE: Bill Bolling has announced he will NOT be running! See his statement in the comments section of this blog post. – promoted by lowkell)
by Paul Goldman
UVA Professor Larry Sabato has made it official: if Lt. Governor Bill Bolling tries to make a credible run for governor as a Republican-turned-Independent, he will hurt Democratic Terry McAuliffe.
This is big news. It defies the conventional wisdom. It refutes the push by the state’s “enlightened” right thinking people to get Bolling to run. They have seduced him into believing he is the new magically “moderate” Republican, against the evil conservative Republican. Having spent his political life as the little guy waiting in the wings, they have seduced him with visions of his being the new Lincoln, saving his party for the Whiggery of Cuccinelli. For a little guy (having now lost 40 pounds), finally Bill Bolling finds himself not Bolling Alone.
These folks Bolling to run because they want to use Bolling to kill off Cuccinelli. The AG has no one but himself to blame for the situation as a political matter. He dared Bolling to do it by changing the nomination rules. It was hardball politics. But there was a risk.
However, Sabato says the conventional wisdom and all its worshippers are wrong, that Bolling may not be the anti-Cuccinelli terminator at all. But you ask: Why wasn’t this prediction from the state’s leading political guru reported? My response: It was reported. But Larry said in a respectful, polite manner. He didn’t want to offend anyone, so he did a masterful job of telling the hard truth by concealing it so his friends in the media and the editorial boards wouldn’t get angry with him.
However, we do 200-proof politics here: We appreciate Larry’s skill, but we prefer to be straight up direct. Fact: The good Dr. has given his diagnosis. He said the following in a recent interview with the Richmond Times Dispatch. If Bolling runs, said the good Professor, the LG “could be a contender….a real contender” as an independent third party candidate.
This was music to the anti-Cuccinelli crowd, they are desperate for Bolling to run. They played this part of the interview up front, in the lead. They are desperate for Bolling to run, so this was the seal of approval from the guru, saying to Bolling: “I think you can win bro.”
But Larry knows the truth: Bolling can’t win. He never said he could.
So Larry went on to say that ” even if [Bolling doesn’t win], depending on the positions he takes, he could end up hurting Cuccinelli more, or he could end up hurting McAuliffe more.”
On the surface, this seems a little inane for such a brilliant guy: it is like DUH?
However, there is method to the good professor’s madness here.
What he was saying, without saying it, is the following: If Bolling actually were to run a credible race, then LG would not be a net-wash as some polls are predicting. The pollsters are not sure who Bolling would hurt.
But Dr. Sabato already knows. If your read the quote carefully, he said Bolling would hurt:
The operative tipoff in Larry’s statement is the phrase “depending on the positions” Bolling takes.
Personally, I think this is far too idealistic view of how politics works. Perception, not platform, is more important. But to the extent Larry is right – positions affect image – Bolling will hurt McAuliffe.
As we say, do the 200-proof political math.
If Bolling runs a credible campaign, then his positions will by definition be geared to paint him as the “moderate”, pushing Terry to the left and Cuccinelli to the right.
There are two basic sets of issues: non-social and social.
In the non-social category, the GOP base has long been most concerned with the tax issue. It has proven the best for Republicans for decades. Bolling and McAuliffe back the new transportation tax, Cuccinelli does not. Thus K-Man will run as the anti-tax guy against the other two, saying they are the errand boys of the high tax lobby, socking it to the middle class, yada, yada, yada. But you say: McDonnell, a Republican and a whole lot of Republicans in the General Assembly backed the taxes.
My response: So what? The plan that passed isn’t McDonnell’s plan, this would be a different story. He admits it is a compromise. So he and the others back it, Cuccinelli says it is too taxing on the middle class, a discriminatory double-taxing of NOVA, yada, yada, yada. Bollings campaign advisors have made a living for years running the anti-tax game. They know it will capture the GOP anti-tax base.
In my view, some of the tax plan is unconstitutional, which will only fuel the anti-tax fire more in coming months. Net-Net: On the anti-tax right, Bolling is Bowling alone. He gets NOTHING. Moreover, being seen as pro-tax hurts Bowling with connected parts of the GOP base, the limited government voter, the “don’t tread on me voter”, he loses the pro-middle class image. True, he will try to come back on jobs and growth and fixing transportation, yada, yada, yada. BUT THIS IS ALSO TERRY’S TURF as Sabato is saying without saying it.
On the social issues, the base GOP vote considers itself pro-life. This constituency is solidly in Cuccinelli’s corner, and Bolling knows it. This is their key issue. Bolling can’t change is position here or his campaign will become a joke. Thus, what choice does he have but to try to move left of his current position on issues like gay rights, marriage rights, immigration, women’s rights, minority issues, go down the list. Sabato figures Bolling has to try and become the moderate tolerant guy, painting Cuccinelli as intolerant and McAuliffe as too permissive.
Bottom Sabato line: Bolling, be it on social or non-social issues, has to be moving left to run a credible campaign aimed at getting 35% of the vote.
It is strictly a matter of 200-proof political math.
Thus, the Sabato judgment: If Bolling were to actually try to become a real contender, he would have to spend most of his effort pouching on McAuliffe’s turf, not Cuccinelli turf.
Sabato exposes the myth: Bolling right now is an oxymoron, too pro-tax for his former Republicans, too anti-women for his new Democratic friends, and too much the opportunist for thoughtful independents.
Bolling will need to go left consistently to have any chance of winning. This means he will need to take a lot more votes from McAuliffe than Cuccinelli.
Sabato is too nice a guy to tell Bolling the truth straight up: We, on the other hand, don’t have such social graces. Bolling is a myth in his own mind, being manipulated by those who don’t care about him in the least, but view the LG as easy to use and then discard.
Bolling is still a young man. If he is right about Cuccinelli, then the AG will lose big: and if Bolling just stays quiet, he would become the leading 2017 candidate for the GOP GUV nomination.
Professor Sabato is too polite to tell Bolling the truth: do you really have such a “jones” for Cuccinelli that you would destroy your own career to stop a candidate YOU DON’T BELIEVE CAN WIN ANYWAY?
It is such a bizarre notion that I think Dr. Sabato can’t really belief Bolling is going to take the bait.