Lt. Gov. Bolling Rolls Political Gutterball Not Using His Elbows

Published 3:13 pm Thursday, December 6, 2012

Out of the national political frying pan and into the state partisan fire, but Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling may have been his own worst enemy when it comes to missing out twice now on his party's nomination for governor.

The political heat from the national campaign hardly disappeared over the horizon before Virginia's political flames began to rise, with Senator Mark Warner declaring he would not run for governor.

Not a bonfire there, of course. No real surprise or controversy. Many Virginians hoped Mr. Warner would seek a second term, Democrats believing, correctly, that he would defeat either Mr. Bolling or Ken Cuccinelli.

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The blue-flame stuff began a few days later when Mr. Bolling announced his withdrawal from the GOP nominating process, his lengthy statement containing unveiled criticism of Mr. Cuccinelli for running against him and GOP leadership responsible for the switch from an open statewide Republican primary to a convention.

The prevailing, and correct, wisdom was that Mr. Bolling would draw from moderate Republicans, independent voters, and probably some Democrats to win a primary that was open to all voters.

Equally accurate, and confirmed by Mr. Bolling's decision and explanation, was the belief that ultra conservative Mr. Cuccinelli would prevail in a convention likely dominated by the right wing and Tea Party element of the Republican Party.

The switch from primary to convention signaled the end of Mr. Bolling's hopes and he publicly made that declaration, starting an intramural brouhaha by throwing verbal elbows at Mr. Cuccinelli and his supporters, dropping hints later that he might run an independent campaign against the attorney general.

But perhaps Mr. Bolling has nobody but himself to blame. He should have used his elbows against Mr. Cuccinelli far earlier. Politics is very Darwinian. Might most often makes might, and that applies within the dynamics of internal political machinations, not simply inter-party battles. Mr. Bolling has long held gubernatorial ambitions. But he yielded those first to Bob McDonnell and now finds himself shoved out of the way by Mr. Cuccinelli.

If Mr. Bolling could not muster sufficient forces in his own party to set and hold in place a primary, and if he could not take Mr. Cuccinelli behind closed doors and convince him-good cop or bad cop-to wait his turn as Mr. Bolling had done for Mr. McDonnell, then perhaps he lacks that final hard-steel ingredient to be governor of a state. If you cannot get out of the intra-squad scrimmage with a win, then what are you going to bring to the big game against the opposing party next November?

A just question. And remember that Mr. Bolling had/has Gov. McDonnell on his side, too, and still could not parlay that into a position of sufficient party strength to force Mr. Cuccinelli to delay his ambitions.

Personally, I have found Mr. Bolling, and his staff, most cooperative and, indeed, crucial in interceding for continued state funding for Virginia's Uninsured Medical Catastrophe Fund during the past three years. He's a good guy.

Many in his party, however, no longer view him that way. Yes, it certainly depends on whose ox is being gored.

Take, for instance, Republic Party of Virginia Chairman Pat Mullins who first cheered Mr. Bolling's announced withdrawal and then, two days later, grilled him for not playing nice with Mr. Cuccinelli.

I am sorry, but any elementary reading of Mr. Bolling's announcement makes it clear what he thinks of Mr. Cuccinelli's decision to play political me-first hardball and the GOP's primary decision.

“Four years ago, I decided to set my personal ambition to be Governor aside and join with Bob McDonnell to create a united Republican ticket. Time has proven the wisdom of that decision…I had hoped that Attorney General Cuccinelli and I would be able to form that same kind of united Republican ticket in 2013. However, late last year Mr. Cuccinelli unexpectedly announced that he intended to challenge me for the Republican Party's nomination for Governor.

“While I was surprised and disappointed by Mr. Cuccinelli's decision, I was confident in my ability to win our party's nomination for Governor in a statewide primary election, which was the method of nomination that had previously been adopted by the State Central Committee of the Republican Party of Virginia.

“However, in June of this year the newly constituted State Central Committee voted to change the manner in which we will nominate our candidates in 2013 from a statewide primary to a closed party convention. While I did not support that decision, it had a dramatic impact on the 2013 campaign,” Mr. Bolling said.

“…Conventions are by their very nature exclusive, and at a time when we need to be projecting a positive image and reaching out to involve more Virginians in the Republican Party, I am unwilling to be part of a process that could seriously damage our image and appeal,” his initial announcement stated.

Later, and this is what no doubt provoked Mr. Mullins, as it has other Republicans, Mr. Bolling would not commit to supporting Mr. Cuccinelli and floated intimations of an independent candidacy.

Should Mr. Bolling decide to get on the ballot as an independent, it would show the resolve and determination that he did not demonstrate four years ago and has not made public yet against a second party rival for governor.

If you want to lead, Mr. Bolling, you've got to get out in front of those trying, and succeeding so far, to elbow you out of the way.