Although we’re sure he doesn’t see it this way, being rejected by his own party might be the best thing that ever happened to Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling. Think about it: A year ago, Bolling was just a boring party apparatchik whose main function was breaking ties in the evenly divided senate (always in the GOP’s favor, of course). In fact, if he was known at all back then, he was known as the guy who was almost certainly going to lose the Republican gubernatorial nomination to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
But after suffering a series of political setbacks (mostly at the hands of his party’s conservative wing), Bolling finally called it quits, effectively handing the nomination to Cuccinelli and, in the process, reinventing himself as a borderline interesting person.
Bolling’s transformation began almost immediately, as he refused to endorse Cuccinelli and began hinting that he might consider a third-party bid for the governor’s seat. He then set about staking out positions in direct opposition to Governor McDonnell, rejecting a wide range of McDonnell proposals, including uranium mining, making parts of I-95 a toll road, and arming schoolteachers.
Bolling’s most recent apostasy came when he refused to go along with a redistricting power grab by state senate Republicans, forcing them to wait until a Democratic senator was out of town to force through the legislation on a party line vote (a particularly craven procedural trick that helped ensure the bill’s ultimate demise).
Now, the smart money still says that Bolling will forgo running as an independent this year. After all, Virginia governors are limited to one term, and Bolling would still be a relatively spry 60 years old in 2017.
But the smart money can be pretty dumb—especially when it comes to intangibles like ambition and personal animosity. There’s no doubt that Bolling harbors deep resentment toward the Cooch, who jumped the line and denied Bolling a nomination he’s coveted for years. Add to this the fact that Cuccinelli just released a book, The Last Line of Defense: The New Fight for American Liberty, that is exactly as gonzo and fringe-dwelling as you would expect from the Tea Party’s favorite AG. (For instance, he labels the Obama administration “the biggest set of lawbreakers in America,” and claims that, by requiring all Americans to purchase health insurance, President Obama “did to the American people what the tyrant we rebelled against in 1775 couldn’t even do when we were merely subjects.” Oh yeah—he also come out firmly against public pools.)
This latest hardbound evidence of Cuccinelli’s extremely right-wing views might endear him to the Republican base, but there’s no way that it helps him win a general election—especially in a blue-trending commonwealth like Virginia. And, as Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe has yet to gain real traction, it’s entirely possible that Bolling senses an opportunity to ride in and defeat not only McAuliffe, but also his much-hated Republican rival.
The question is, does he have the Bolling balls to do it? Even a couple of months ago, we’d have laughed at the idea of the blandest gray suit in Richmond transforming himself into a party-straddling populist. But now that an obviously liberated Bolling is beginning to feel his oats, anything seems possible. So rest assured, when he takes the stage for a planned “big announcement” on March 14, we’ll be watching with bated breath.