Our View: The good soldier

Posted: November 30, 2012

Bill Bolling is a good Republican soldier, solid and reliable — but only up to a point.

Clearly stung by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s decision to run for governor, not to mention how Mr. Cuccinelli’s allies on the State Central Committee rejiggered the nomination process, Mr. Bolling, the state’s lieutenant governor, has decided to suspend his gubernatorial quest. His primary reason: He figured — accurately, most likely — that he could not win the nomination in a convention format and, therefore, did not want to put the state GOP, or himself, through such a tortured process.

Now it seems apparent that the two combatants in next year’s race for the Governor’s Mansion will be Mr. Cuccinelli and Terry McAuliffe, buddy of Bill Clinton and former head of the Democratic National Committee. The DeeCee press is already salivating at the thought of the arch-conservative attorney general locking horns with the ultra-liberal onetime DNC chief. We’ll refrain from joining that chorus.

Frankly, given the direction of the current Republican administration in Richmond, with its emphasis on jobs and the economy, we considered Mr. Bolling the logical successor to Bob McDonnell — much as Tim Kaine was to Mark Warner on the Democratic side in 2005. Mr. Bolling, by all accounts, thought so, too — and was not shy about saying so during an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Jim Nolan.

“I think I’m the most qualified person to serve as the next governor of the state,” he said. “I’m the person most capable of effectively and responsibly governing the state. I think I’m the logical person to build on the progress Gov. McDonnell and I have made over the last three years.”

Paul Goldman, the Democratic pundit-provocateur, said such candor was indicative of a runaway “ego.” We beg to differ. We see it as outright frustration. Consider: Mr. Bolling, twice elected lieutenant governor, put his political ambitions on hold so Mr. McDonnell could run for governor. Then he saw his long-awaited opportunity blunted by Mr. Cuccinelli’s end-run through the State Central Committee. Who wouldn’t be frustrated? There are limits to being the good soldier.

As a result, relations are strained between these GOP leaders, to the point not only of bad blood but also of suggested non-support. Mr. Bolling indicated to the T-D that he would not endorse any candidate in the campaign for governor. He also refused to totally dismiss the possibility of an independent candidacy. On both counts, we hope this was the frustration talking.

Nonetheless, we find all this rather unsettling, given the fact that, as state senators, the two men were, if anything, philosophical soulmates. The media today tends to portray Mr. Bolling as a moderate and Mr. Cuccinelli as a take-no-prisoners conservative. Only one description is accurate. Mr. Bolling, since his election to the Senate in 1995, has been an earnest, thoughtful conservative. If anything differentiates the men, it’s that Mr. Cuccinelli relishes ideological combat while Mr. Bolling, as suggested by his role as Mr. McDonnell’s jobs chief, is a more pragmatic, nuts-and-bolts man of the right.

Given the current political landscape — Virginia slouching toward “purple” status — Mr. Bolling’s more tempered brand of conservatism offered the better opportunity for a continued conservative presence in the Governor’s Mansion. Now we’ll never know.