Slamming the shutdown is all the rage among GOP governors. Here’s why it matters for 2016.

October 3, 2013

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal says the federal government shutdown is a symptom of a larger problem with Washington. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says it's a "failure of everyone who is responsible for the system." And Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says there is enough blame to go around for everyone in the nation's capital.

Sensing a theme here?

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. (R). (Getty Images)
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. (R). (Getty Images)

Republican governors who may run for president in 2016 have taken square aim at the federal government shutdown in an effort to amplify their long-running message that the states -- in particular, their own states -- do it better.

Briefing reporters in Washington Wednesday, Jindal, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, argued that the shutdown is just one part of a larger systemic problem in Congress that can only be fixed by sweeping "structural" changes.

"It didn't start with his current challenge," Jindal said.

Among Jindal's proposed fixes: A balanced budget requirement, term limits, and requiring a super-majority to approve tax increases. Not-so-coincidentally, Jindal noted, each can be found in Louisiana.

To the north in New Jersey, Christie released an ad Tuesday that served as a not-so-subtle nudge to voters to contrast his record of working with Democrat to the impasse in Washington. "Compromise isn't a dirty word," Christie declares in the commercial. It's an effective message, considering Christie is running for reelection in a deep blue state.

But cooperation isn't the only remedy Christie wants to talk about. He also wants to talk about leadership. Like Jindal, Christie slammed President Obama's handling of the shutdown showdown. His implicit message: My leadership skills > Obama's leadership skills.

"My approach would be as the executive, is to call in the leaders of the Congress, the legislature, whatever you're dealing with, and say that 'we are not leaving this room until we fix this problem,' because I'm the boss, I'm in charge," Christie said.

Walker has his own solution to the budget impasse: Look at my state. "The best way to resolve it? Just look at what we did in Wisconsin. We had a $3.6 billion budget deficit; we now have more than half a billion surplus," he said earlier this week.

Here's why it all matters: All three governors, if they run for president, will be mounting some variation of a beltway-outsider-knows-best, reforms-must-happen-now campaign. And this week, we're seeing with greater clarity what each one would look like.

Christie's would probably follow the script he's used so far and double down on the importance of being a strong leader. Jindal's ideas about reshaping the structure of government would likely be at the center of his own pitch. And Walker's would be expected to rest heavily on the budget cuts he made that turned him into a villain on the political left but a hero on the right.

Of course, these aren't the only potential Republican candidates. Look inside the halls of Congress, and you'll find four more: Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), and Rand Paul (Ky.); as well as Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.); all of whom are tethered to the shutdown, and will be on record with key votes related to it.

So far, the governors have mostly been careful not to criticize congressional Republicans directly. But hinting at Washington's failure where states have succeeded implies some congressional Republican culpability. It's a safe bet that in the heat of a presidential campaign, implicit criticism would quickly give way to clear broadsides.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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