If you are a GOP governor — Rick Perry (Texas), Chris Christie (New Jersey), Scott Walker (Wisconsin), to name three — considering a presidential run a presidential run, events in Washington should be encouraging.
To be blunt, the outbreak of unseriousness in the Senate GOP caucus on everything from Syria to the government shutdown makes the lawmakers with presidential ambitions look like Lilliputians.
Take the Obamacare/government shutdown fight. Whether you are against it, as is Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) or leading the charge, such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) or trying to seem tough by joining in, such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the public is unlikely to take a look and say, “Now there’s a chief executive!” All the talk from the senators about “making a point” and showing how tough they are only convinces the public that they have no point and are confusing bullheadedness with strength.
The senators talk about scoring points and shutting down the government. Ironically, both Christie and Walker brushed aside legislative threats, showing those willing to paralyze their state as irresponsible. The senators talk in sound bites, as if they are auditioning for a talk-show hosting gig and have never encountered a serious Republican. GOP governors, at least the good ones, can explain in concrete terms why their conservative ideas benefit voters; they are adept at engaging Democrats and independents. The D.C. players don’t look grown up, let alone ready to be president; the governors are the GOP grown-ups.
You can imagine the argument: “While Sen. Cruz was telling the Senate to filibuster a bill he praised, I balanced my fifth (sixth? tenth?) budget with no tax increases.” These days GOP lawmakers are all about tactics while the governors are all about results.
When it comes to foreign policy, usually those inside the Beltway have an advantage over governors. Senators can claim participation in Pentagon oversight and can cite overseas trips, maybe even meetings with the troops overseas and with some world leaders. But in this case, once again, the Senate Republicans are gripped by a severe case of foolishness.
We have no national interest in Syria. We should contain Iran. We are for freedom fighters, unless it comes to arming them. All of these sentiments have come from the lips of one or more of the senators eyeing the presidency. To the extent they understand Syria is a stand-in for Iran, they seem as blissfully and willfully ignorant as the president does as to how the Syria arrangement has undermined our credibility with Iran and freaked out Israel. Along the way, the senators either rubber-stamped or wouldn’t bother to block a slew of unqualified and/or inept national security advisers. Don’t get me wrong — there are serious foreign policy conservatives in D.C., but as far as I know, not one of them is thinking of running for president.
When the general election rolls around, who will be in the best position to challenge the disaster-strewn record of Hillary Clinton? You have the sense that some of these Republican senators are planning on running to the left of Clinton, but in the wake of Syria and after goodness-knows-what in Iran, that may well seem laughable. Is the argument really going to be that we were too active, projected too much military strength and stuck by our allies too readily?
The governors thinking of running in 2016 might consider a few recommendations. First, do not cheer any side in the D.C. budget/Obamacare lunacy. Doing so only makes you a lowly participant in a legislative fight, not a potential executive-branch leader. Second, do not bank on Republicans going isolationist. It’s not the GOP post-Reagan tradition and it is offensive to large swaths of the GOP electorate. Spend some time thinking about a post-Obama foreign policy, restoring U.S. credibility and military prowess and debunking the idea that we “can’t afford” to be engaged in the world. And third, make every month and year count. Run up the score on Democratic lawmakers, push harder on the reform agenda and nominate judges who will stick to the text and meaning of the laws they interpret.
At this point, I’d put my money on a GOP governor in 2016. If nothing else, a governor can say that he never approached his job as immaturely or foolishly as the crop of current senators who have somehow become convinced they are presidential material.