Republicans used to brag about their “deep bench” of governors, diligently solving problems in contrast to the dysfunction happening in Washington. No more. All four sitting governors running for president — Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal and John Kasich are struggling in the polls, eclipsed by those so outside the Beltway that they lack any governmental experience: Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina.
Why are Republican voters falling under the spell of these neophytes? Because under the rules of modern conservatism, holding the responsibility of the governor’s mansion is a lose-lose proposition. Either you must pursue insane right-wing goals that inevitably backfire, or you remain within the parameters of sanity and get dismissed as a “RINO.”
As I recounted today for Real Clear Politics Christie, Jindal and Walker fell into the trap of the former.
Jindal went on a tax-cutting frenzy, only to spark a massive budgetary crisis and a legislative revolt. Jindal responded by proposing massive education cuts, driving his approval rating down to the 30s. Just this month, he capitulated, accepting a budget that closed the budget gap primarily with increase revenues.
Christie tried to show off the conservatives he could crack down on union pensions and hold the line taxes. Instead, his refusal to raise taxes meant he couldn’t hold up his end of the pension deal. Now New Jersey has suffered multiple credit rating downgrades, as has Christie’s approval rating.
And Walker is stuck with a subpar jobs record that failed to meet his campaign pledges because he was more interested in busting unions and snubbing President Obama’s high-speed rail plans, both moves that lost home state jobs.
But if twisting your state into a pretzel is a bad idea for governors eyeing the White House, governing with a modicum of reality doesn’t help one with Republican primary voters either.
Ohio’s Kasich is no moderate. But he didn’t let his opposition to Obamacare trump the common sense of taking free Medicaid money from the federal government. He also had the foresight to balance his income tax cuts with other revenue raisers, avoiding fiscal crises in the first place. He has high approval ratings in a swing state Republicans desperately need to win in 2016. This all is proof to Republicans voters that he can’t be trusted to govern as a real conservative.
Republican governors either have to accept reality, or eventually get whipsawed by reality. Either scenario fails to impress conservative voters who are allergic to reality.
Though they are impressed with reality TV. Ergo, Trump.