Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell arrives for his trial at U.S. District Court Aug. 28, 2014 in Richmond, Va.
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Bob McDonnell’s ‘family values’ fall short

Updated

“What shall it profit a man,” the Bible says (Mark 8:36), “if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” In the end, former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a 1989 graduate of Pat Robertson’s CBN (now Regent) University School of Law, never got to find out. A jury on Thursday found Bob guilty on 11 counts of public corruption, and his wife Maureen guilty on nine.

“McDonnell’s wasn’t a strategy that seemed recognizably pro-family or Christian.”
Last year, prosecutors offered Bob a deal in which he alone would plead guilty to a single felony fraud charge, according to The Washington Post. Maureen would not be charged at all. He turned it down, and both were charged on 14 counts. The legal tack they chose was for Bob to air the marriage’s dirty laundry on the witness stand – describing in lurid detail how greedy, reckless and verbally abusive she could be, even suggesting she was in love with another man – and to invite others to do so as well.

It wasn’t a strategy that seemed recognizably pro-family or Christian. McDonnell’s 1989 master’s thesis, written when he was 34, had called on government to enact reactionary policies to shore up traditional Christian family values – among its targets were feminists, working women, “cohabitors, homosexuals [and] fornicators” – and during 14 years in Virginia’s General Assembly, McDonnell supported policies congruent with that view. Once McDonnell became governor, his social conservatism became less noticeable, partly because practical governance required moderation, and partly because it paled in comparison to that of the state’s attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, who lost his own gubernatorial bid in November.

Now we know that McDonnell’s legal strategy wasn’t recognizably effective in a more practical sense. Its always dubious theory was that any couple with marital troubles like theirs couldn’t possibly have engaged in a criminal conspiracy to swap government favors for cash from Jonnie Williams, a rich “dietary supplement” (read: patent medicine) peddler only too happy to pay up. Trashing his own wife’s reputation turned out to be futile. Jurors were able to observe that the couple continued to live under the same roof; planned a daughter’s wedding partly funded by Williams; took vacations on Williams’s property; and enjoyed Williams’s money in various other ways, often together.

“To whatever extent the 2009 race turned on family values, Virginia voters couldn’t, in retrospect, have been more wrong in finding McDonnell superior to his opponent.”
To whatever extent the 2009 governor’s race turned on family values, Virginia voters couldn’t, in retrospect, have been more wrong in finding McDonnell superior to his Democratic opponent, Virginia State Sen. Creigh Deeds. McDonnell wouldn’t accept a plea bargain to spare his family. Deeds, by contrast, nearly died for his this past November.

A judge had ordered Deeds’s 24-year-old son Gus, who suffered from severe mental illness, to be committed involuntarily. But a hospital bed couldn’t be found, and so Deeds took him home, where Gus stabbed his father multiple times in the head and chest before shooting himself dead. In a speech in March, Deeds called the son who very nearly killed him “my hero.” It’s hard to resist comparing that statement with some of the things McDonnell said on the stand about a wife who merely yelled at him.

Anyway, it didn’t work. McDonnell could have chosen to be a crook without being a cad. Instead, he ends up being both.

The Rachel Maddow Show, 9/4/14, 11:32 PM ET

Wife-dumping defense fails 'family man' McDonnell

Rachel Maddow reports on the guilty verdicts in the corruption trial of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife, and traces the declining arc of McDonnell’s pious “family values” political persona to his legal defense of scapegoating his wife.

Bob McDonnell

Bob McDonnell's 'family values' fall short

Updated