The Agenda

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell on ‘Results-Oriented Conservatism’

Bob McDonnell is one of relatively few Republican governors to have had a very successful Tuesday. Rather hearteningly, he attributes his success to an emphasis on public sector efficiency in a short column at RedState:

Here in Richmond we didn’t raise taxes and we didn’t grow government. Instead, we defeated Tim Kaine’s tax hike and reduced state spending to 2006 levels. At the same time, we invested in transportation, higher education and economic development. We didn’t buy in to the mistaken belief that you can’t prioritize in government. You can. That is how we reduced spending by billions of dollars, rolling back the budget clock five years, while at the same time putting the most new funding into transportation in a generation and making college more affordable and accessible for our students. In both transportation and education, we knew we needed to bet on and invest in our own future.

McDonnell also touts Virginia’s relatively low unemployment rate, which is a bit misleading. The affluent northern counties of Virginia benefit enormously from the expansion of the federal government. Regardless, McDonnell has done many things right and he is right to suggest that “the Virginia way” might prove potent for Republicans in national elections:

Conservative principles of making government live within its means, trusting the private sector, focusing on the core functions of government, getting government out of areas where it doesn’t belong, reducing regulation and litigation and trusting free people to make their own decisions are working here. Voters are responding favorably. And these same principles can win on the campaign trail from Columbus to Denver, and work in the halls of government in Washington D.C.

There is much more to say about McDonnell’s political style, which has helped him make inroads in inner suburbs and among ethnic voters, many of whom had been growing increasingly hostile to the Virginia GOP. His 2009 victory, on a jobs-centered platform that reframed right-of-center policy prescriptions in accessible, common-sense language, should be studied very closely. This is particularly true because his Democratic opponent and allied groups invested a great deal of time and energy in portraying McDonnell as a right-wing extremist. The charge didn’t stick precisely because of McDonnell’s unwavering focus on kitchen-table issues.

Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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