To the untrained eye, Virginia’s political scandals are beginning to become indistinguishable from one another. Reading reports last night of yet another brouhaha in the mother of states, my tired eyes struggled to place the words on the page in their appropriate context. For a brief moment at least, “McAuliffe” and “McDonnell” were one and the same; “Macca” slurred effortlessly into “Macaca”; and the cardinal sins of job-selling, gift-taking, and good old-fashioned bribery melted into a single morass, leaving me to wonder whether there is anyone left in Richmond who is on the level.
Americans are accustomed to wrongdoing in Chicago and Louisiana, and to such an extent that leaders in those places make the news these days if they do not end up disgraced or incarcerated. But now that the Old Dominion has been invaded by New Washington, one has to wonder whether Virginia, too, will join the ranks of the permanently iniquitous. It was, after all, only one month ago that Republican Bob McDonnell was found guilty of eleven counts of corruption, having taken more than $165,000 worth of gifts and loans from a businessman who wanted his company promoted. Now the mansion at Capitol Square is in the spotlight again. Per a report in the Washington Post, Governor Terry McAuliffe’s chief of staff, Paul Reagan, has been caught in a brazen and illegal attempt to induce a state senator to delay his retirement — an attempt that Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey suggests convincingly simply had to have come from the top. In June, the Post reports, Reagan “left a voice-mail message for a Democrat who was on the verge of quitting the General Assembly . . . saying that the senator’s daughter might get a top state job if he stayed to support the governor’s push to expand Medicaid.” Initially, McAuliffe’s spokesman denied the charge. But, having been “read a transcript of Reagan’s message,” the point was swiftly conceded. Conveniently enough, federal investigators were already on the scene in Richmond, the Democratic party having previously accused Republicans of playing a similar game. Time will tell which charges stick, but, if the Post’s Aaron Blake is to be believed, “McAuliffe’s got problems.”
Those who are wondering how a governor’s chief of staff could possibly be so unyieldingly naïve as to willingly record his corruption on tape might take a moment to remember who Terry McAuliffe is — and, for that matter, with whom he has typically elected to surround himself. Moreover, one might examine how he found himself in his present sinecure. As, in times of old, service rendered to the king would eventually garner a lord or lady a lucrative country seat, McAuliffe is now reaping the rewards of years spent assisting both the Clinton machine and the Democratic party at large. It is rare to witness an election in which a candidate is loathed as keenly by his supporters as by his opponents, but somehow McAuliffe managed to pull it off, benefiting ultimately from his powerful connections and the perceived extremism of his opponent and not from any talent for governing of his own. He is, Salon’s Alex Pareene wrote in 2013, “a soulless political animal with no redeeming human characteristics” whatsoever, and he is useful to his champions not as an independent leader but as a loyal and protean pawn who will do whatever it takes to get his own way. If Virginia is eventually to descend into the mire, voters could not have selected a better doyen than McAuliffe to steer the state downwards.
To his credit, perhaps, McAuliffe has never sought to conceal who he is. Rather, he has proven to be so startlingly candid about his sociopathy that he saw fit to compile the details into a book. Demonstrating an alarming lack of understanding as to how normal people operate, McAuliffe proudly recounted in his autobiography no fewer than five occasions on which he had left his wife in distress in order to go raise money — one of which, astonishingly, came while she was giving birth to his daughter. This, it seems, is par for the course. In consequence, even endorsements of him end up sounding like denunciations. McAuliffe is “the ultimate political insider” and “a self-described wheeler-dealer,” the Washington Post observed in the course of announcing its support for his candidacy, and “his stock in trade has been playing the angles where access and profit intersect.” Nevertheless, the paper proposed, he takes “sensible stands on key issues.” Among those “key issues” was Medicaid. Is anybody surprised that in pursuit of his goal, McAuliffe reverted to type?
In one sense at least, there is a perverse logic to McAuliffe’s tenure. If, as they routinely tell pollsters, American voters believe all of their politicians to be intractably corrupt, there is a refreshing honesty in their wishing to elect those who are the most upfront about their flaws. And yet, one suspects that McAuliffe is the product of something more than just mass electoral candor. As the United States becomes more politically divided, the scope for charlatans and hirelings will inevitably increase, character and judgment being less important in the age of Leviathan than ideological conformity and naked self-interest. Last year in Virginia, Republican Ken Cuccinelli evidently scared just enough of the electorate to permit McAuliffe to take charge, voters who were fully aware of how likely their charge was to embarrass them electing to return him anyhow. That such a man should be anywhere near a seat that, at various points and in one form or another has been held by Sir Walter Raleigh, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe, is, historically speaking, rather distressing. That he should be the second governor in a year to find himself embroiled in a scandal does not bode well for the future. But if the machine rolls on unchecked, this is precisely what we should expect: sure, voters and power-players will say, he’s as crooked as they come, but he’ll direct the behemoth in my favor.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.