It is not hard to figure out how governors would run against senators in the 2016 GOP presidential primary. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie put out this video excerpt of a speech at the Rutgers nursing school in Camden, N.J., on the day the shutdown ended:
It doesn’t matter if it is Christie or Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker or Texas Gov. Rick Perry; the argument will be: Do you want a fight or an actual victory? Do you want to make a point or make a difference?
The argument makes mathematical sense. The tea party contingent is a shrinking part of the GOP, and even some of them will acknowledge that episodes like the shutdown and candidates like Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell did more harm than good. For the disillusioned Republicans sympathetic to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and the Republicans who think he is a menace and everyone in between, a politician who has done more and won repeatedly (even when up against Big Labor, as Walker was) is almost irresistible.
Well, you say, what about Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Suddenly he’s become a pastel version of Cruz. He was inconsistent on immigration (for comprehensive reform before he voted against it, against the shutdown before he voted for it), hardly the standard bearer the far-right sliver is looking for. And the skeptics and anti-tea party Republicans view him as trouble. The rationale for his candidacy is weak. Moreover, in the “make a point or a difference” sweepstakes, Paul plainly loses. He’s a thorn in the side of the people who get things done, not a lawmaker who accomplishes much.
What is true of Rand Paul is also true of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is suffering from an identity crisis. After his leadership on immigration reform (admirable, in my book), the hard-right is unlikely to trust him again. The non-tea party Republicans are disappointed and flabbergasted by his race to the right. Today, in an interview with Sean Hannity, he revealed the preposterous argument he must now make in defense of his actions. He asserted, “The one thing I want people to understand is: They should not feel depressed about this or discouraged about the long term of it. We are going to prevail on this issue. t is just a matter of time. We will prevail because Obamacare is going to be a disaster. And it won’t be long before many people in this town will be scrambling to try to fix it.” But that, of course, was the argument against the shutdown stunt and in favor of keeping the focus on the Obamacare debacle.
The shutdown fight highlighted a divide in philosophy and governing style in the GOP. But insofar as it was a colossal loss for the “make a point” crowd, it greatly elevates the “make a difference” contenders. Moreover, a multiple winner (Perry was elected four times; Walker, if he wins in 2014, will have won three times statewide; Christie is about to win, overwhelmingly, for a second time) is far more likely to have the campaign experience and know-how that a freshman senator lacks. (Although some governors certainly have run some awful presidential campaigns.) This doesn’t mean that a GOP governor absolutely will or should win in 2016. It means that the shutdown mess strengthens what was already a natural advantage going into that contest. The rest, however, is up to the candidates both in advance of 2016 and in how they run their race.