Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Twilight of the Governors

It's been interesting to see Perry and Walker be the first GOP candidates to bite the dust, months and months before the first actual primary.  Arguably, their bona fides trump those of all of their opponents (pun intended.)  Walker has won election three times in a state that has voted twice for Barack Obama, and survived a recall drive in the bargain.  He broke the public unions in Wisconsin and in the process emboldened other governors to do the same in other states.  Perry was the longest serving governor in the history of Texas, currently the second most populous state in the nation.  He claimed to have effected a "Texas miracle" whereby that state's economy grew in the face of strong national headwinds.  Perry swaggered as he went to other states to poach their jobs.

Now both are effectively on the ash heap of history.  Of course, Perry's fate was sealed four years ago with his infamous "oops" comment.  Walker is out for similar reasons, namely that he is a friggin' idiot.  His inability to answer basic policy questions was pretty embarrassing, and during the last debate he was sweating like Gil from the Simpsons.  This has been a vindication for people who have lived in those states who have tried to warn others that their governors are, indeed, goddamned morons.  (My time in Texas made that apparent to me pretty fast.)

This has got me thinking, and I see what looks to be a larger trend when in comes to governors running for president.  Time was when conventional wisdom held that governors made strong candidates.  They were de facto Washington "outsiders" and had executive experience.  This was only reinforced by the electoral success of Reagan, Clinton, and Dubya, the only presidential candidates to get elected twice between Eisenhower and Obama.  In this election, however, the governors are doing poorly, with perhaps the exception of Jeb(!).  Walker and Perry are out, Huckabee is a fringe candidate, Jindal is in asterisk territory and Christie will likely join him there.  Jeb! is the only relevant governor in the race, and he is in fourth place in the newest CNN poll.

How to explain this?  I think a lot it has to do with the changing nature of state-level politics in this country.  The massive wave of money has had a bigger effect there, where it can buy a lot more.  The Kochs buoyed Walker in Wisconsin, for instance.  With groups like ALEC set up, the right wing moneymen can put out the money to get a patsy in office and have an organization there to write up all the legislation for them.  On top of that, local newspapers and tv stations have been cutting back on reporting staff, meaning that the new wave of governors is getting a lot less scrutiny and are less practiced in dealing with a hostile press.  The Republicans have been pleased with taking over statehouses and governors mansions in places like New Jersey, Michigan, and Wisconsin, but it's really all about the structure and not about the people in it, in most places.  That structure is set up to get a particular ideological agenda advanced, no matter who holds the position.  It should hardly surprise us that the talking heads assigned by their financiers as their political functionaries wilt before the bright national spotlight.

This is at least the case for me as far as Perry, Jindal, and Walker are concerned.  Christie is a little different, in that he seems like a more forceful, independent personality.  However, he presents another problem for governors wanting to be the presidential nominee of the Republican party: the need to compromise.  When Sandy wrecked New Jersey, it would have been too craven for even Chris Christie to attack the president rather than embrace him in order to get national Republican support at the expense of his constituents.  Those Republicans in Congress have had it easy on this score.  They just sit back and oppose each and every thing that Barack Obama does, never having to sully their ideological purity.  While this behavior is horrible for the nation, it is great for maintaining the good graces of hardcore conservatives.

Jeb! was governor at a different time, so this stuff does not quite apply to him.  But based on what I'm seeing, at this point I would be willing to be that Rubio is more likely to be the nominee than him.  What all of this shows us, yet again, is that the Republican Party has long ceased to be a broad-based center-right party, but is now merely the vehicle for an extreme right wing ideology.  It does not care about governing or putting people forward who can govern, but only about advancing its agenda, whatever the cost.  A lot of regular people's frustration with the failures and gridlock in our system boils down to this basic fact, one you'll never hear mainstream news organizations name.

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