It’s been a tough month for the two Republican governors who once epitomized the GOP’s resurgence in the Obama era.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that federal prosecutors have charged former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell with illegally accepting luxurious gifts from a businessman who sought special treatment from state government—the culmination of an investigation that consumed the ex-chief executive’s final months in office. McDonnell, whose wife has also been charged, maintains his innocence, but the report is another blow to a Republican leader once thought to be on Mitt Romney’s vice presidential shortlist.
For the two-man Republican class of 2009, that’s been a recurring theme this month. McDonnell’s GOP gubernatorial compatriot, New Jersey's Chris Christie, has been knocked sideways by revelations that a member of his senior staff vindictively ordered the lane closure of a bridge connecting New Jersey and New York—a scandal now known as “Bridgegate.” The Jersey governor has denied any direct knowledge of the order, but an ongoing investigation by state lawmakers threatens further damage to his image. (Not to mention the possibility of a federal scrutiny in not one but two areas.)
McDonnell and Christie, both former prosecutors, were each elected in November of 2009 in victories that conservatives hailed as the beginning of their political comeback, after steep losses in 2008. The two candidates' fiscal-minded messages won over moderate voters in states where Barack Obama had won just a year earlier. Their styles differed—Christie was far brasher than the relatively placid McDonnell—but both were immediately anointed Republican stars and the kind of candidates who could one day seek the party’s presidential nomination.
So it’s appropriate that the two men who rose to prominence together should fall simultaneously. To be sure, McDonnell’s plight is far more serious than Christie’s: He faces the prospect of significant jail time, and even outright acquittal likely won’t be enough to resuscitate his political career. Christie, for now, remains the party’s presidential front-runner.
But the bridge scandal has tarnished his image nationally and worried supporters that more revelations will further undermine his standing. Back in 2009, that’s not the way it was supposed to go for Christie or McDonnell.