There were clear winners this week in the Supreme Court's decision in the Bob McDonnell case, with the former Virginia Governor obviously enjoying the biggest victory. McDonnell's 2014 conviction for corruption was vacated by the Court, so he will stay out of jail -- for now. Next a court will have to decide whether there is enough evidence for a re-trial; even if they think there is, federal prosecutors have to weigh the costs and risks of a new trial against the Supreme Court's new, more restrictive standard for corruption.
There are plenty of other winners, though, including the Governor's wife, Maureen, who will likely now win an appeal of her own corruption sentence. The decision could also make it harder for prosecutors in corruption cases up North, as New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez faces charges and former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver appeals his own conviction.
In general, any public official who was worried about ethics reform, particularly in Virginia, has to feel like a winner after the decision. The Associated Press ran an adorable report this week that claimed that "the gift scandal that led to federal charges against [McDonnell] reshaped Virginia's political culture." It's a cute idea, but wrong. Yes, many legislators are no longer blatantly accepting gifts from constituents, but as one Daily Beast headline put it, the decision "could open up a new golden age of political pay-to-play."
Still, there's one more, less heralded winner in this week's Court decision, with big consequences for next year's statewide elections: the Virginia Republican Party.
Bob McDonnell was once a rising star on the national scene, and the nominal head of his state party apparatus. After the corruption scandal broke, he instead became the albatross around the Republicans' neck. Their 2013 candidate for Governor, then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, was a polarizing candidate to begin with. But the McDonnell scandal neutralized any talk of his opponent, Terry McAuliffe, and ties to the Clintons and fundraising scandals. Instead, it was the GOP that was the party of corruption.
And you can be sure this would be an issue in 2017 as well. With their last sitting Governor in jail, Ed Gillespie or Rob Wittman -- or, God help us, Corey Stewart -- would have to defend themselves and their party from Democratic attack ads that suggested they were just like McDonnell. (All three candidates have been remarkably quiet this week, at least on social media.)
Now that threat is likely gone. Top Republicans like House Speaker William Howell (McDonnell was "vindicated") and Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment ("the Court has unambiguously determined that his conviction was unjust") are practically crowing about what a stand-up guy Bob McDonnell is.
From the beginning, McDonnell's attorneys had claimed that the charges against him were, in part at least, politically motivated. (Virginia Tech's Bob Denton even said the Court's decision confirmed that the case was a "federal witch hunt.") Assuming charges are dropped, now Republicans can tell that same story: McDonnell just made some mistakes, but was the victim of an overreaching federal government. In the age of Trump, that can be a convincing tale for skeptical Republican voters.
McDonnell remains popular in his home base of Virginia Beach, so we might even see a political comeback for him some day. But GOP officials in Virginia are just happy not to have him in an orange jumpsuit when they try to take back the Governor's mansion next year.