August 17th, 2018


Govern this, guv: Partisian pols and winners

Bill Schneider

By Bill Schneider

Published August 13, 2015

Govern this, guv: Partisian pols and winners

When he entered the Republican presidential nomination race, Jeb Bush offered a dig at President Barack Obama.

"As our whole nation has learned since 2008," the former Florida governor said, "'executive experience' is another term for preparation, and there's no substitute for that."

If what we really want in a president is executive experience, we could just elect Donald Trump and be done with it. Problems with Congress? President Trump could just tell them, "You're fired!"

American voters have often demonstrated a preference for governors over senators when they choose a president. Before Obama, the last senator to win the White House was John F. Kennedy — nearly 50 years earlier. In the interim, former Governors Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush all won.

Governors have actually run something. All senators do is make speeches and vote. "We've had enough of talkers," Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said when he entered the GOP race. "It is time for a doer."

These days, however, governors who run for president have to prove their ideological purity. Republican primary voters demand it. Tea Party conservatives and the religious right have enormous influence in Republican primaries and caucuses.

Their favorites do not necessarily win the nomination, however. Senator John McCain and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney were not favorites of the right. But the nominee has to be acceptable to hard-line conservatives.

Several governors who are running or likely to run have respectable problem-solving records in their states but are not considered pure enough ideologically: Bush, Ohio Governor John Kasich, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former New York Governor George Pataki. All are having trouble gaining support in polls of Republican primary voters. They've made too many compromises.

Bush supports immigration reform, which is popular in Florida but anathema to conservatives. Kasich committed the sin of accepting Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. Christie praised Obama for coming to New Jersey's rescue after Hurricane Sandy. He even hugged him.

But at the onset of the 2016 election, we're seeing Jindal and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker take rigid right-wing positions to win over out-of-state conservatives.

Even if it creates problems in their own states.

Both Wisconsin and Louisiana are now facing serious budget shortfalls largely because their governors refuse to increase taxes or fees to pay for infrastructure repairs and education. Neither governor can tout impressive economic gains for his state. But both boast about their tax cuts. And both have seen their job approval ratings at home tumble.

Jindal won acclaim for his deft handling of the BP oil spill in 2010. Since then, however, he has moved steadily to the right.

In his announcement speech, Jindal put ideological purity over pragmatism by declaring, "Republicans must stop being afraid to lose." Wisconsin has a strong progressive tradition. So Walker shied away from hard-line conservative positions when he ran for governor. Now he's facing a revolt among his fellow Republicans in the state legislature. They favor investments to repair the state's crumbling roads and bridges and to sustain Wisconsin's commitment to first-rate public universities. Walker refuses to raise taxes. He is demanding cuts in education spending and has picked a fight with university professors.

Fighting is Walker's thing. He criticized senators when he said, "Some want you to think they fight, but speeches aren't fighting or winning." Walker is leading in Iowa polling right now because he touts his record as a fighter — and a winner. He took on labor unions and won. He won again when Democrats forced him into a recall election.

Partisans like a fighter. But do voters want to see more fighting in Washington, or do they want to see more problem solving? Governors have traditionally won the presidency because they can boast a record of problem solving, which usually involves a willingness to compromise.

For conservatives, the model is Ronald Reagan — a governor who was also a hero to ideological activists. Reagan could give a fiery speech blasting taxes on Monday, then sign a deal that raised taxes on Tuesday, then give the same fiery speech blasting taxes on Wednesday.

It worked for a simple reason: He believed every word he said. And the tax hikes? That was just politics — a compromise he had to make to keep his agenda on track.

It was a neat trick. And it required the skills, not just of a governor, but also of a professional actor.

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06/18/15: Losing Our Religion: Not so fast, Dems
06/15/15: Rebellion in the Dems' Ranks
06/11/15: Divide and Conquer
10/22/14: Dems Are Having Trouble With the Working Class, Just Like the 2010 Midterms

Bill Schneider, a leading U.S. political analyst, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow and Resident Scholar at Third Way. Along with his work at Third Way, Bill is the Professor of Public and International Affairs at George Mason University and is a contributor to the AL Jazera English network. Bill was CNN's senior political analyst from 1990 to 2009 and was a member of the CNN political team that was awarded an Emmy for its 2006 election coverage and a Peabody for its 2008 coverage. Schneider has been labeled "the Aristotle of American politics'' by The Boston Globe. Campaigns and Elections Magazine called him "the most consistently intelligent analyst on television.''

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