by Paul Goldman
In one of the most baffling moves by any presidential candidate in recent Virginia history, Mitt Romney a bit earlier today basically endorsed Lt. Governor Bill Bolling over AG Ken Cuccinelli in their hotly contested, increasingly bitter 2013 Republican party contest for governor. Precisely how this helps Romney to pick sides in this fight is not immediately clear, nor is it likely to become any more so with passage of time.
Last I checked, Mr. Romney trailed in Virginia. Thus, he needs a united GOP to have any real chance of winning. The battle between Bolling and Cuccinelli is far more than a personal one. Each represent a different wing of the GOP, making the 2013 GUV fight a battle for control of the state GOP.
By and large, the key activists backing Cuccinelli did not support Romney for the GOP presidential nomination. They don't much like Romney and wouldn't do much to help him, except for their antipathy towards President Obama. On the Bolling side of the party, the key activists were Romney backers in the primary. So they naturally want him to win.
If the adage "all politics is local" is true, then the worst thing for Cuccinelli - in terms of ambitions to be Governor in 2013 - is a Romney win, since we can presume a Romney Administration would have Bob McDonnell in a cabinet post. This, in turn, would mean McDonnell had to resign from the governorship, and thus Bolling would succeed him as a matter of constitutional law.
Cuccinelli could still decide to challenge Governor Bolling for the 2013 party nomination. But the historical record from around the country says such a challenge to an incumbent governor, even if successful, only results in the winner losing the general election.
Thus Cuccinelli, from a personal point of view, is making a sacrifice to help Romney win. Why, then, kick him in the shins?
There is no possible good reason.
Now, if Cuccinelli is smart, he will make a joke of the Romney endorsement of Bolling. This will make the whole situation work to his advantage if done right. Moreover, this will allow Cuccinelli to do nothing for Romney this election cycle.
Virginia is a key state for Romney. He needs "all hands on deck" to win. He needs Bolling and Cuccinelli working side by side. He needs Cuccinelli backers to be 100% Romneyites. Romney's blunder today makes that a lot harder, if not corrected ASAP. The GOP presumptive nominee will have to "walk back" the comment somehow. But even then, it was a clear "Freudian slip" as they say.
The Truth: A winner presidential candidate would never have made such a blunder. The polls are right: Romney is losing right now. He is "off his feed" as they say. Bolling has no real supporters; Cuccinelli has a lot, and they're EXACTLY the activists who Romney needs to win Virginia in November.
Cuccinelli now knows the truth about his relationship with Romney. It isn't even September and yet Romney is using up his "Get Out Of Blunderville" cards. I say one more mistake like this one and we put a fork in Romney, he's done in Virginia - and nationally, as he can't win the White House without Virginia.
UPDATE by lowkell: Also see Paul's excellent piece, Romney, Allen, McDonnell Being Sacrificed in VA GOP Bloodletting, from a week ago, on the intra-Virginia GOP bloodletting that's been going on the past few weeks...