The GOP got another dose of bad news today as former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell joined current New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to create “double trouble” for the Republican Party. McDonnell and his wife were indicted on federal corruption charges for accepting a wide array of gifts ranging from cash for their daughter’s wedding, to free rides in a Ferrari. Most of the allegations surround gifts given to the McDonnell’s from Jonnie R. Williams, the head of a nutritional supplement company called Star Scientific. McDonnell insists that nothing improper was done, and no favors were done for Star Scientific. He simply failed to report or account for the gifts correctly.
The 14-count indictment paints a picture of a political family in financial turmoil. It is assumed that most politicians are wealthy to a certain degree, and there is a bit of truth to that assumption. Congress currently has more millionaires among its membership than ever before. However, according to documents included in the indictment, the McDonnells had significant credit card bills and other debts. In one email to a staffer, Maureen McDonnell says, “We’re broke,” and laments the cost of a gown for her husband’s inaugural gala.
McDonnell and his wife insist that nothing improper took place. From their point of view, the entire situation is just a case of “bad bookkeeping.” It is true that it is not against the law for politicians to accept gifts. It is a common practice at every level of government, for better or for worse. Indeed, in some ways the entire lobbying industry is built around this concept. What the McDonnells say happened is that they simply failed to report the gifts they received correctly. McDonnell and his wife will be arraigned this coming Friday and then the legal process can play out. In the meantime, however, the scandal involving Bob McDonnell creates “double trouble” for the GOP when combined with the problems facing Chris Christie.
Christie’s problems began earlier this month with the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal. He is accused of shutting down traffic on the George Washington Bridge in an act of political retaliation against the mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing him as governor. This was followed by accusations that Christie misappropriated federal relief funds associated with “Superstorm” Sandy. He allegedly used these funds to pay a state contract to run ads encouraging tourism to the renovated Jersey Shore. These ads featured the governor and his family prominently and could be seen as political advertisements, not an effort to boost tourism; the contract was awarded to one agency whose bid was significantly higher than its closest competitor. Finally, this week Christie was hit by allegations from the mayor of Hoboken that he intentionally withheld Sandy relief funds from the city in another politically motivated act.
Aside from the immediate impact of such scandals on the political careers of both McDonnell and Christie, these situations create a potentially larger problem for the Republican Party at large. Christie is widely regarded in many circles as one of the front runners for the Republican nomination for president in 2016, should he choose to run. While McDonnell’s immediate prospects were not quite so lofty, he was seen as a potential “rising star” within the GOP and being term limited to a single term as governor in Virginia, he certainly could have challenged for another state wide office in Virginia such as U.S. senator.
The damage done by political scandals often can outweigh their immediate impact. Even if Christie is cleared of wrongdoing in each of the situations he is involved in, the negative attention he has gained may still make it impossible for him to mount a successful presidential campaign. Similarly for McDonnell, he could be found not guilty in his corruption case, but the questions of impropriety may continue to haunt his career. The Republicans then, may have lost two powerful potential candidates for national office in the future. This could be particularly damaging as they look to take advantage of recent Democratic weakness surrounding the floundering launch of ObamaCare.
On the other hand, sometimes the American people can be surprisingly forgiving. Christie or McDonnell would not be the first politician to survive significant scandal and emerge unscathed. Regardless of the outcome however, for now it would appear that Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie have created “double trouble” for the GOP.
Editorial by Christopher V. Spencer