Corruption investigations, and a conviction, dim GOP hopes for the White House in 2016

A week is a long time in politics, as British Prime Minister Harold Wilson famously observed.

Only a year ago many Republicans were touting Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell as a front runner in the 2016 Presidential nomination stakes. Some liberal commentators were complaining about some sort of bribery scandal but these were nothing to worry about.

Not any more. McDonnell has just been found guilty of accepting $165,000 in loans and bribes from ‘businessman’ Jonnie Williams. William’s firm Star Scientific started out making cigarettes, and switched to making tobacco based ‘nutritional supplements’. It has been losing money for a decade and is itself at the center of a securities investigation.

Bob McDonnell

Bob McDonnell

The scandal unfolded after Todd Schneider, the executive chef at the governor’s mansion fell out with the McDonnells and was charged with stealing food from the kitchens. Schneider told investigators that Williams had paid the $15,000 cost of catering McDonnell’s daughter’s wedding. Further investigation quickly uncovered numerous unreported gifts and loans.

McDonnell is hardly the first state governor to be convicted of corruption. Four Illinois of the last eight governors have been convicted of fraud after leaving office. But none of those were considered serious Presidential challengers. Today three of the top contenders for the Republican Presidential nomination are more likely to serve jail time than in the oval office.

Photo by Dave Weigel.

Chris Christie (photo by Dave Weigel).

New Jersey governor Chris Christie is currently under investigation for misuse of public office in the Bridgegate scandal, and for using federal disaster recovery grants given to aid hurricane Katrina victims to pay for what were in effect Chris Christie campaign commercials.

Don’t let the apparent pettiness of Christie’s alleged involvement in the closure of the toll lanes on the George Washington Bridge, for a traffic study now known to be fake, distract you. The closures took place the same week that the city of Fort Lee was attempting to close a round of funding on a billion dollar development on land next to the toll booths. The plots of land have remained undeveloped till now because of a previous scandal in which the New Jersey mob attempted to bribe a previous mayor of Fort Lee to approve a development of their own.

First recall effort against WI Gov. Walker launched—by Walker supporterWisconsin Governor Scott Walker is also at the center of a criminal investigation of alleged illegal coordination between his campaign and special interest groups. Although the prosecutor has stated that Walker himself is not a target in the probe, legal maneuvers by Wisconsin Club for Growth challenging the constitutionality of the law should ensure that the case gets prominent media attention throughout the 2016 campaign season.

Emails sent by Walker campaign managers show them openly touting the use of the fund as a way to make unlimited covert contributions to his 2012 campaign against recall. And the favors returned by Walker are hardly inconsequential, Gogebic Taconite who covertly donated $700,000 to the Walker fund received approval for the world’s largest open-pit iron ore mine shortly afterwards.

Texas Governor Rick Perry is also in serious legal trouble after he attempted to use a line item veto to veto funding for the Travis county public integrity unit. While Perry had the right exercise his veto, threatening to do so if District Attorney Lehmberg did not resign was unambiguously illegal.

rick perry brokeback

Rick Perry’s got a problem.

While Perry’s action is the easiest to explain to voters, he faces two major problems that make his position much worse than Christie or Walker. His first problem being that he has already been indicted and by a Republican prosecutor to boot. The second problem is that Rick Perry has already established a reputation as being astonishingly stupid. His attempts to brush off his indictment by pretending it was for ‘bribery’ rather than threatening a public official only remind people why his last campaign crashed and burned.

The Presidential nomination race is an elimination game of course. But most Presidents are former Vice Presidents or State Governors. Senators do win their party nomination fairly often as John McCain, John Kerry and Bob Dole prove. They all lost. Obama is the first President to come from the senate since John F. Kennedy. And JFK was the only man to make that move in the 20th century. And significantly, Obama and Kennedy both won the nomination in a field led by other senators.

The only living Republican Vice Presidents are Dick Cheney, Bush the Elder and Dan Quayle. So a state governor has to be their best chance of winning the WhiteHouse. With McDonnell, Christie, Walker and Perry mired in criminal investigations, the Republican party is starting to run out of choices.

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