Virginia Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell was on the short list for the 2012 vice presidential nomination, and it seemed like he would, at minimum, get a cabinet position the next time a Republican was elected to the White House.
Now, because he succumbed to the crony capitalism that has tempted and brought down so many politicians before him, his political career is likely done.
“The truth is his political career is over,” Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia, told the Washington Examiner. “This is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. McDonnell could’ve had it all. He would’ve been able to go into future elections with bipartisan accomplishments and [the] support of the religious right without being as scary as some other conservatives.”
Just as the crony capitalism of the GOP in Congress hurt national Republicans before the 2006 elections and may have created the environment that helped get Barack Obama elected as president, McDonnell’s fall has hurt other Virginia Republicans as well. His ethics scandal put a cloud over the gubernatorial campaign of Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who was also tied to the Star Scientific scandal and could not bash Terry McAuliffe, who won the election, for his lifetime of crony capitalism. Ed Gillespie, the former RNC Chairman, George W. Bush operative, Karl Rove ally, super lobbyist, and a potential candidate for Senate in 2014, may also be hurt as Gillespie, who was McDonnell’s campaign chairman in 2009, has been widely associated with him.
As the Examiner noted, “no one could have imagined that he would also end up on the Justice Department’s shortlist of allegedly corrupt public officials.” However, “McDonnell now faces the likelihood of a grand jury indictment and, as the seconds tick down on his term in office, he is forced to weigh his legal future instead of his political future.”
Federal prosecutors reportedly did not indict McDonnell and his wife Maureen in 2013 because “McDonnell’s legal team asked the feds to at least hold off until after he leaves office on Jan. 11, sparing him the stigma of being the first sitting governor in state history to be indicted,” according to the Washington Post.
McDonnell was able to appeal to religious and fiscal conservatives in addition to suburban independents, but he threw away his political capital – like many Republicans during the 2000s – by vowing to change government then letting government change him.
The Washington Post reported that Johnny Williams, the CEO of Star Scientific, “gave $70,000 to a corporation owned by Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his sister last year, and the governor did not disclose the money as a gift or loan, according to people with knowledge of the payments.” Williams also took McDonnell’s wife on lavish shopping sprees in New York, bought McDonnell a Rolex watch before a meeting before state officials, gave a “a previously unknown $50,000 check to the governor’s wife, Maureen, in 2011,” and also “gave McDonnell a check for $10,000 to defray costs of his daughter Jeanine’s May 2013 wedding.”
McDonnell at first denied the allegations, saying, “Those are some really, really bad rumors so you shouldn’t pay attention to them.” He ultimately apologized to Virginians and repaid what he said were “loans” from Williams.