There was a time, not so very long ago, when Republican leaders thought they had the deepest, most impressive slate of potential presidents in ages. The sentiment owed largely to the fact that the huge early field was rich with current and former governors.
It was these state leaders, the theory went, who were busy getting things done while Washington lay paralyzed by gridlock. It was they who presented the sharpest contrast with President Barack Obama, dismissed by many Republicans as hindered by a lack of executive experience. It was they who built records upon which they were eager to run. The field included some of the biggest names in the party: Florida’s Jeb Bush, Texas’ Rick Perry, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Ohio’s John Kasich, New Jersey’s Chris Christie and a onetime rising star from Louisiana named Bobby Jindal.
And as Louisiana voters prepare to have their say in Saturday’s primary, it’s these governors who already have fallen by the wayside. Of this noteworthy group, only Kasich is still standing, and as leader of a large state that could swing either way in a general election, he’s well-positioned to rake in support from those voters who care about such things. He’s also the only remaining major contender who has yet to win a state.
Bottom line: When it comes to what governors are selling, voters aren’t buying.
The rise of storm-the-barricades outsider Donald Trump has dominated the discussion, of course, but the flip side is the fall of all these heavily credentialed elected officials. Turns out voters aren’t so impressed with governing experience, after all.
Could it be because they’re not so impressed with how some of these folks governed?
Take Jindal, who put all his eggs in pursuing ideologically rigid social policies that he thought would attract evangelical primary voters and in drawing a line in the sand on raising taxes. Never mind that his policies gutted vital state functions such as higher education or allowed big business to cash in on so many giveaways that it collectively received more money from the state than it paid.
Or take Christie, whose stricken expression as he stood alongside Trump after the Super Tuesday results rolled in suggested a cross between bewilderment and utter humiliation.
Christie and Jindal actually have a lot in common. These two governors, more than any others, wore their national ambitions on their sleeves, and these two used their day jobs not to serve their states but to pursue their own goals. Both served as head of the National Governors Association, a post that positioned them to raise money and solicit chits from other top officials. Both saw their popularity at home plummet as their constituents realized they were being used.
And both shamelessly brushed off criticism, even as their states struggled with huge challenges. When the Republican-majority Louisiana Legislature passed a bill last year calling for Jindal’s campaign to pay for his State Police security’s travel expenses while he campaigned for president, Jindal simply vetoed it. When a student at a New Hampshire town hall asked Christie why he was out campaigning for president rather than helping his state recover from damaging floods, he responded: “Do you want me to go down there with a mop?”
Actually, I’m guessing some of his constituents might have liked that.
In fact, a series of New Jersey editorials calling on Christie to resign rather than serve out the rest of his second term easily could have been written here had Jindal not been so close to the end of his tenure.
“He has answered every crisis with neglect during his disastrous second term,” wrote editors of nj.com. “His disinterest in this state’s most pressing problems is breathtaking. Political and business leaders say they can’t get his attention. He was gone 72 percent of the days in 2015, and even more often during the start of this year. In any other job, he would have been fired long ago.”
And there was this from a joint editorial by six state newspapers, written after Christie endorsed Trump: “We’re fed up with Gov. Chris Christie’s arrogance. We’re fed up with his opportunism. We’re fed up with his hypocrisy. We’re fed up with his sarcasm. We’re fed up with his long neglect of the state to pursue his own selfish agenda.”
There are many reasons this year’s GOP primary process has gone off the rails, but one is surely this: Voters are fed up with what’s happening in the nation’s capital and don’t feel their interests are being represented. And to the extent that state leaders start to look and act the same as Washington politicians, it’s no surprise that voters are ready to be rid of the whole lot of them.
Stephanie Grace can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @stephgracenola.