The absurdly premature Quinnipiac poll on the 2016 race had one worthwhile nugget: “Republican voters say 59 – 23 percent that they prefer someone with experience as a governor, rather than a senator as their party’s nominee.” Why is that the case?
After months and months of Republicans and conservatives more generally saying; “Look at the governors!” GOP voters may be doing just that.
Mike Schrimpf of the Republican Governors Association tells me, “It’s not a surprising result. Voters want political leaders who deliver real results and that’s exactly what Republican governors have done and continue to do.”
Indeed, in the aftermath of the 2012 election they are the winners in the party, controlling 30 governorships. What’s more, they are popular in their home states and more accomplished than any other category of Republicans. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is the most popular pol in the party. Gov. Rick Snyder just pushed through right-to-work legislation and got Michigan’s top bond rating back. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell got major education and transportation legislation through. Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin is a conservative rock star with a positive agenda and a huge win against Big Labor.
But others things may be at work. Any politician of and in Washington, D.C., is going to get some flak simply because virtually everyone dislikes Congress. That doesn’t mean that individual Republican senators and House members are all unpopular, but it does mean that to impress their own potential primary voters, incumbent lawmakers will have to show that they are somehow distinct from and have taken on the things voters don’t like about D.C. pols (e.g. bickering, gridlock, fiscal irresponsibility).
It is also true that Republicans have had more success with governors as presidential candidates lately — Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush — and more broadly with executive-types (e.g. George H.W. Bush, Dwight D. Eisenhower).
Finally it may be that the Obama presidency — with its gridlock, inability to forge consensus, refusal to get the country on firm fiscal footing and error-prone foreign policy — is convincing voters we need someone who knows how to run things. Nothing like having an unprepared senator with no business or executive skills to create a pro-governor buzz, huh?
None of this means a GOP lawmaker can’t win the nomination in 2016 or that a governor is a sure-bet, but it should take Republicans and pundits back to the basics as to why GOP governors are doing better than the national party these days. They are problem-solvers, constrained by balanced budget requirements, required to deal with rather than excoriate Democrats and often have backgrounds and experience beyond politics. (Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, for example, were successful businessmen.) They are more diverse in gender and ethnicity. And they have that ability to project a sense of command, instill confidence and rise above the partisan squabbling not fan the flames. Whether or not a governor, any serious contender for the GOP nomination in 2016 will need to embody many of these characteristics.