Back in 2010, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell was thought to be the next big conservative star. After Barack Obama carried 6-point in there in 2008, many believed the Commonwealth was slipping away from Republicans. McDonnell, however, was able to restore hope for the GOP in 2009 when he defeated Creigh Deeds in the gubernatorial election.
McDonnell immediately became a key Republican spokesman. He gave the GOP’s response to the State of the Union address in 2010 and signed legislation — the Virginia Healthcare Freedom Act — that sought to nullify ObamaCare. Despite taking on President Obama in a purple state, McDonnell managed to maintain a 62% approval rating deep into 2011 and was one of the names most frequently mentioned to run alongside Mitt Romney in the 2012 election cycle.
There has been dissatisfaction with McDonnell from conservatives for some time, though much of this is related to how he has handled social issues. But McDonnell lit a flame under fiscal conservatives last month when he proposed an overhaul to Virginia’s transportation tax.
McDonnell’s original proposal would have replaced the gas tax with an increase in the sales tax, increased the vehicle registration fee by $15, and imposed a $100 tax on alternative-fuel vehicles. It also would have dedicated taxes revenues from the so-called “Marketplace Fairness Act,” the online sales tax bill awaiting passage in Congress, to transportation and education.
While he promised not to raise taxes — going as far to say that he would veto any transportation bill that did so — McDonnell’s proposal would have cost Virginia taxpayers $1.2 billion over five years, and as much $2.3 billion if revenues from the online sales tax were included.
It appeared that the plan was on the ropes after it was defeated in the Virginia Senate on February 5th after Democrats voted en mass against it, but the House of Delegates kept it alive, passing the transportation bill later that day.
For them to throw their support behind the transportation bill, Senate Democrats wanted two things — the final product of the bill had to raise $1 billion each year and a promise from McDonnell that he would expand Medicaid, per ObamaCare.
In the end, Senate Democrats won. Not only did they get McDonnell to sign off on Medicaid expansion, they got a bill that will raise as much as $6.1 billion over five years ($1.13 billion per year) — the largest tax hike in Virginia history.
While establishment cheerleaders — such as WaPo’s Jennifer Rubin, are talking this up as a victory for McDonnell, the Wall Street Journal editoral board notes that he has actually helped Democrats during an election year in the Commonwealth.
“This fiasco will haunt Republicans in a state that holds elections in November,” the WSJ editoral board explained. “Probable Democratic nominee for Governor Terry McAuliffe endorsed the bill knowing it erases any GOP advantage on taxes and spending.”
They added, “Mr. Cuccinelli, the likely Republican nominee, opposed the bill but must now find a way to rally a splintered GOP and demoralized conservatives. At least Republicans can erase Mr. McDonnell’s name as a national candidate or VP choice in 2016.”
Erick Erickson, a talk radio host and Fox News contributor, also had some tough words for McDonnell.
“Bob McDonnell is a perfect example of the worst kind of Republican,” Erickson wrote this morning at RedState.com. “He has no principles that he won’t sell out if he thinks the situation demands it. He is interested in the praise of liberal editorial pages for his balanced leadership, which is really just selling out the people who got him elected.”
“His policy legacy will now be trading higher taxes for a massive entitlement expansion,” Erickson further explained. “How pathetic.”
With his tax hike and capitulation on ObamaCare, McDonnell has killed any hopes he had of becoming a top-tier player for the GOP nomination or a vice presidential nod in 2016. The last thing the GOP needs is another moderate squish on fiscal issues to carry the party banner in bid for the White House.
If conservatives want to publicly respond to McDonnell, the first chance will be next month at CPAC, where he is scheduled to speak. Turn your backs on McDonnell, who is now the face of the tax-hiking wing of the Republican Party, in the same way he turned his back on Virginia taxpayers.