McDonnell Marooned?

What happened to Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell?

Last month, McDonnell’s vice presidential fortunes were soaring. He welcomed both Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann to Virginia for a campaign event. The media was atwitter with speculation over his chances. The Romney campaign started deploying him as a political surrogate. Everything that could have gone right went right for him. Lawrence O’Donnell even attacked him.

When stars fall in politics, they always do so abruptly, with a whimper. On May 29, McDonnell announced on WTOP’s “Ask the Governor” that he wasn’t even being vetted by Romney’s campaign. Today you’re more likely to hear about little-known Sen. Rob Portman as veep material than McDonnell.

The most likely culprit? Vaginal probes, of course. Meaning Virginia’s proposed law that would have required women to have a vaginal ultrasound examination before having an abortion. Democrats rallied against the law and barraged it with demagogic attacks. Virginia became Normandy Beach in their fraudulent “War on Women.” McDonnell initially supported the law, then withdrew his support at the last second. Regardless, the Romney campaign would have calculated that the law is a liability. Nobody likes hearing the words “vaginal probe” on the campaign trail.

Then there was McDonnell’s 2010 proclamation of “Confederate History Month” which made no mention of slavery. He later apologized for the omission, but the stigma stuck.

Missteps aside, if the Romney campaign really isn’t considering McDonnell for the veep slot, it’s a shame.

McDonnell, a devout Catholic, has a reputation as a rock-ribbed social conservative. He is vocally pro-life, and his college thesis criticized contraception and the disintegration of marriage.

Mitt Romney needs more luster with social conservatives, who hold him suspect over his flip-flops on abortion and "don’t ask, don’t tell." The centerpiece of the 2012 election will be the president’s economic failures. But social issues have a habit of popping up when they’re least expected. During the primary, Romney kept getting shellacked in states with high populations of evangelicals. The 2004 election, dominated by questions over the war in Iraq and John Kerry’s Vietnam record, wound up hinging on moral issues.

Democrats are nailing down a key part of their base by shrieking about a War on Women. Republicans should respond in kind. Bringing Bob McDonnell to the ticket would show that Mitt Romney takes social concerns seriously and give evangelicals greater impetus to vote this November.

Economically, McDonnell also has plenty to offer. He cut billions from the state budget, helping to close both a $1.8 billion deficit in 2010 and further projected deficits of $4.2 billion. (Some of these savings came from President Obama’s stimulus package, as McDonnell himself admitted.) He worked to expand offshore drilling in Virginia. His policies wooed new businesses into the southern part of the state, including ICF International and EIT. The fiscal conservatism paid off. Virginia has the lowest unemployment rate in the Southeast and is ranked by CNBC as the best state in American to do business.