Get ready for the governors’ rush. Whether he is done for or not, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s troubles have reminded pundits, donors and potential candidates that 2016 is wide open. Since governors remain the most accomplished and popular (the two go hand in hand) Republican elected officials, it makes sense for those looking for a candidate to check out the other gubernatorial prospects. There are a bunch of them.
I’ve yet to speak to a donor or a GOP organizational chief who didn’t think well of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. He has governed like a conservative, built up a fundraising network, beat back Big Labor and established a no-nonsense, every-guy persona. The question is whether he can channel all of that into an overarching theme and project enough oomph to excite primary voters. So far the refrain I hear from establishment Republicans is: We like him. We want to see more. His critics, to the extent he has any, fret that he will be overshadowed by the celebrity Democratic potential nominee, Hillary Clinton. The flip side is that making Clinton and President Obama the focus of the election works to the GOP’s advantage. As a non-college graduate, Walker isn’t going to suffer from the “doesn’t understand problems of people like me” problem that hurt Mitt Romney.
Then there is Jeb Bush. If Christie falters, expect a stampede to Florida from donors, business people, conservative organization heads and more. The moderate GOP forces who believe Christie provided an example of center-right governance with personality to spare will look to Bush. He was leading the conservative policy reform movement before there were any followers. His compelling retail and media political skills, not to mention the ability to raise a lot of cash, are second only to Christie. He is the adult in the room for many in the GOP who want to return to a fiscally and personally mature figure as head of their party. His immigration book last year made the case for legalization, exactly where the House is winding up. He’s made education the focus of his post-governorship. It is widely assumed he won’t run, but among people who talk to him regularly the impression is he is on a disciplined timetable and will in fact seriously consider a run.
Let’s say Bush doesn’t really want to do it (still more likely than not, I think). The governors’ cavalcade really gets started. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder just announced his reelection bid. His right-to-work legislation and cleanup of Detroit, plus his business background, make him an attractive candidate. Heralding his reelection bid, the Republican Governors Association (RGA) issued a news release that could be his opening stump for a presidential stump speech.: “Michigan is in the midst of a long-awaited turnaround thanks to Governor Rick Snyder’s principled leadership. In just one term in Lansing, Governor Snyder has eliminated a $1 billion budget deficit, cut taxes to aid business growth, and put more Michiganders back to work by fostering the creation of over 220,000 jobs.”
Oddly, no one has been buzzing about Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a former congressman who considered a run in 2012. To the extent he builds upon his predecessor’s successes and makes some out-of-state appearances, interest in him will rise. He’s media adept and since his days in Congress has been knowledgeable on foreign policy. His in-state approval was in the 60 percent range last fall. For those nostalgic for the Reagan era, he may fit the bill. (Interestingly he put out a warm statement on the death of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, whom Pence noted he met in 2004: “Today, we mark the passing of Ariel Sharon, a soldier and a leader who served the nation of Israel in times of war and peace. Prime Minister Sharon dedicated his life to the security and well-being of our most cherished ally and he will forever be remembered with respect by her people and her friends. Our prayers are with his loved ones and all those who mourn the passing of this warrior and leader of Israel.”
And then there is Ohio Gov. John Kasich, also a former congressman. He has a bit of the Jack Kemp enthusiasm, a whirlwind of policy ideas and go-get-’em optimism. After getting beaten in a state referendum on right to work, he has come back strongly and has improved his approval numbers. An official with a prominent donor group that met with him says that he sounds like a governor pitching his record as presidential material.
The MSM call this “chaos,” while the RGA would likely call this an embarrassment of riches. In contrast to the Dems, the GOP will almost certainly have a competitive primary with no clear favorite and a whole bunch of viable governors under consideration. Republicans fretting that the MSM is taking down a front-runner for 2016 should take a deep breath. The field is not close to being set.