By Carten Cordell │ Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau
Whether it gets any traction with Virginians is another matter.
With five months left in his term, McDonnell is deep into save face-mode, trying to preserve his legacy as governor and his career of public service.
What can he do to preserve his legacy beyond Star Scientific? We have the five-step playbook here:
- Ditch the gifts — While many observers saw McDonnell paying off the loans as a step in the right direction, they also noted the gifts he and his family received from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams — including a $6,500 Rolex watch and shopping trips for wife, Maureen McDonnell — were not included in the payback.
If the governor wants some slack, he should ditch the gifts as well, pronto.
“I think he might consider returning those or donating them to charity,” said Kyle Kondik, political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “If (Tuesday’s) decision by him was an admission of at least the appearance of impropriety existed, the way you mitigate it is you do a little more than McDonnell did (Tuesday).”
Reform Virginia’s gift disclosure law in a special session — The best way not to get run-over by a scandal train is to stay ahead of it. By calling a special session of the General Assembly to reform Virginia’s gift disclosure law, McDonnell can appear as if he is trying to fix his own problem and can neutralize the law as a campaign talking point.
“To associate himself with proposals to make the system more transparent and more rigorous would probably be a good way to leave office,” said John McGlennon, director of the government department of The College of William and Mary.
Emphasize the wins — Scandals can define political legacies, so while trying to diffuse one, McDonnell could highlight what his administration has achieved, whether it is pension reform or the state budget, to counter the circulating rumors.
“I think doing public events that are associated with some of his legislative accomplishments would be the best way of shifting attention,” McGlennon said. “If he tries to lay low, then the most recent issues are the ones that will stay fresh in voters’ minds.”
When it’s over, go private — While his term concludes in January, McDonnell could then dip out of the public eye until the tempest subsides, assuming the investigations find that no laws were broken. By heading for a job in the private sector, McDonnell could get out from under the public microscope.
“I think getting into the private sector would be a good idea,” said Craig Brians, associate chair of the political science department at Virginia Tech. “Doing something that doesn’t require that kind of attention.”
Hope for a political resurrection — McDonnell’s future could run the gamut of political leper to comeback kid. For every watcher who says the gift scandal bears too much baggage, there is another who points to the presumed resurgence of Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer. The possibilities can be summed up in two words: Richard Nixon.
Nixon faced conflict-of-interest rumors while running for vice president in 1952, which he diffused with the famous “Checkers speech.” He then went on to lose both the 1960 presidential election and the 1962 California governor’s race. Seemingly written off, Nixon came back in 1968 to win the presidency.
The flipside of that coin is that Nixon was brought down, and ultimately defined, by the Watergate scandal. It’s unclear what McDonnell’s political future could be, but both avenues are in the realm of possibility.
“I don’t necessarily see this as a career-ending situation,” Brians said. “I certainly wouldn’t say that because I would have been wrong many, many times in the past when I thought someone’s career was actually over.”
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