Don't Call it a Makeover

The WaPo has a long piece on Bob McDonnell in its digital pages this morning that achieve two ends:

1. To remind (and perhaps horrify) the denizens of the North that Bob is one of those weird social conservatives who may just likely be taking his marching orders from Pat Robertson.

2. To tell conservatives that McDonnell is running to the middle in search of independents, moderates and assorted other odd beasts who hold the keys, it’s said, to political victory.

Slice and dice.

As for the crypto-social conservative strangeness…I lay that more to the Post’s endless fascination with things they neither understand nor countenance. They don’t get it, so, it must be bad. Or evil. Or evilly bad in a really, truly, terrible way. At least, that’s what they are all saying in Cleveland Park, so you know it’s true.

As for the rest…here there are both rays of hope and reasons for concern.

First, the hope:

“I’m the same person I’ve been,” McDonnell said in an interview from his office, where he displays a painting of George Washington with his head lowered in prayer. “I’m conservative. But conservative means that you believe in limited government and low taxes and keeping regulations to a minimum. . . . It’s not just the social issues.”

If things ended there, we’d all be fine. Regrettably, they don’t:

…McDonnell, 54, the former state attorney general, is trying to follow the lead of successful statewide candidates, in the mold of such moderate Democrats as Mark Warner and James Webb. On the trail, he touts a record of bipartisan compromise and peppers his speeches with references to crime-fighting proposals that won broad support. Even his campaign Web site prominently features accounts of his “working effectively with” Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, now chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

One would hope that this reflects more of Anita Kumar’s vision of what makes for a successful candidate than what the McDonnell campaign actually believes. If their aim is to run in a Warner-Webb mold, then the right may as well stay home or, failing that, do what some did in 2005 and skip the top line on the ballot, and cast their votes for candidates elsewhere.

But still, we’re running on hope — hope that this is really just Postie throat clearing and not campaign strategy. But hope gets dinged here:

McDonnell was widely credited with persuading feuding members of his own party to consider solutions to Virginia’s transportation mess when they had been unwilling to do so before. He told them that they didn’t deserve to lead the state if they couldn’t come up with a plan.

The result: a landmark package in 2007 to add $1.1 billion annually for transportation needs across Virginia.

“It took tremendous time and effort and political capital to put together,” McDonnell said.

And, let’s never forget, it was also a plan that the state’s supreme court eviscerated. If this monstrosity — with its unelected, regional taxing authorities — reflected the leadership caliber of the existing Republican political class, then Virginia is better off without them.

Even with this big hit, hope still remains, at least for the McDonnell campaign. Their biggest asset is the almost clownish opposition they face in the state’s Democrats. Two of the Democratic candidates — Creigh Deeds and Brian Moran — have said that tax hikes are on the table, believing somehow that it is possible, in a deep recession, to tax one’s way back to financial health. Moreover, all three Democrats, while embracing the chimera of energy independence, aren’t keen on the idea of offshore drilling. Each has eagerly embraced big labor, even walking pickets lines to show their bona fides. There are other issues too — McDonnell staked out a position opposing the smoking ban (based upon property rights), unlike the three Democrats and many Republican legislators. He waffled horribly on the stimulus bill, but even that placed him above the Democrats, and again, many Republican legislators, who eagerly accepted the (borrowed) cash, with few-to-no questions asked.

But then there was this:

In December, when the four candidates for governor shared the stage for the first time, McDonnell stuck to his script. He said his focus on welfare reform, Internet safety and reducing drunken driving was intended to appeal to new voters, younger residents and minorities — swing voters for a new era in Virginia politics.

Chasing “swing voters” with small-bore issues like Internet safety doesn’t fill me with confidence. And welfare reform? Well the General Assembly punk’d you on that one.

Like voters everywhere, swingers are concerned with the large-bore issues: the economy, jobs, taxes, education — in other words, the issues that conservatives have run on and won on in the past. And there are plenty of openings: Terry McAuliffe doesn’t like charter schools, for example. Take it and run with it (just be a lot bolder than those in the General Assembly). Democrats and others beat back attempts to strengthen property rights, the right to work law and even managed to snooker the Republicans on welfare. Take them up. Democrats balked at putting the transportation trust fund off limits, and refused to address the matter of sunsetting taxes that have outlived their intend purpose. Take them up.

There was also a move to adopt a tax and expenditure limitation measure in the last session. It got through the House, but died in the Senate (with Creigh Deeds gleefully sticking a knife in its back). Pick it up and run with it.

The opportunities are there. The only question is whether Bob McDonnell will seize them.