Earlier today, our friend John Nolte argued on Twitter that conservatives needed to rally quickly around Wisconsin governor Scott Walker as the Republican nominee for 2016, specifically to set up a binary choice for conservatives in contrast to Jeb Bush. “Can’t divide ourselves among Rubio/Paul, etc,” John wrote, “or it’s gunna be Jeb.” Walker has been “TESTED under fire,” has three blue-state victories, and “can get the base out in general,” where Bush may fail, John argues.
Seems like Walker has the same idea in mind, according to NBC News:
NBC News has confirmed the news first reported by CNN that former RNC Political Director Rick Wiley is joining Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s team — a possible sign of the governor’s 2016 intentions. Here is one thing to note about Walker: He has a potentially good pitch to make GOP voters. Walker can bill himself as the party’s 21st century reformer. And that would be an the explicit comparison to Jeb Bush who is the party’s late 20th century reformer.
That’s an interesting, if somewhat inaccurate, dividing line. The real dividing line isn’t Y2K but the George W. Bush era. The Tea Party arose in large part because of the bailouts started by the Bush administration and continued (and amplified) by Barack Obama, and of the increasing encroachment of the federal government over personal choices and, to borrow a term, the subsidiarity of federalism. Jeb Bush represents the ideas of that era, while Walker represents reform of a more grassroots nature, using state and local jurisdictions to produce real change rather than the continuing expansion of federal intrusion and the “too big to fail” mentality that drives it.
Jeb’s not the only one caught in that distinction either, NBC’s analysts note:
By the way, if Jeb is the 20th century GOP reformer in the field, where is there room for the party’s other 20th century reformer — Ohio Gov. John Kasich? Yes, Kasich is a current governor here in 2015, but the reputation he earned as a reformer was during his Hill days in the 1990s. We wrote on Wednesday that the biggest GOP casualty from all of Jeb Bush’s maneuvers is Mitt Romney (who was huddling with advisers yesterday, per the Washington Post). But another casualty is Kasich, who was making a “compassionate conservative” play.
Kasich’s a potential contender, but at least for now he doesn’t have the kind of draw in either of the two camps to take all that seriously. As NBC notes, his reformer days in Washington are long past and not well remembered, and he’s mostly known among grassroots Republicans these days for his embrace of ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion. Mike Pence will have the same two problems if he decides to run, although the Indiana governor has better instincts among the Tea Party groups and a better track record of state-level reform too.
The New York Times draws the distinction at the Barack Obama era, but looks for the wrong candidates:
In its own vivid way, Mr. Huckabee’s march from author of a self-help and clean-living guide to cheerleader of artery-clogging calories and conservative traditionalism highlights the Republican shift during the Obama era.
The party is different in tone and substance, moving toward a stricter, limited-government brand of conservatism in response to President Obama’s liberalism, a change that has generational and ideological dimensions. …
On the surface they are as different as Ouachita Baptist University, Mr. Huckabee’s alma mater, and Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., Mr. Bush’s prep school. But they share traits: Each left office in 2007, neither has directly engaged in the party’s fights against Mr. Obama, and if they run, both will be challenged in the primaries on positions they took in a different political era.
The 2016 Republican primaries are shaping up as more complex than formulaic clashes between a center-right, establishment candidate and a handful of hard-line challengers. There are also likely to be fault lines of both age and political sensibility.
Figures like Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Bush, who rose to prominence in that earlier era, are likely to face off with men like Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, whose vigorous opposition to Mr. Obama has been a central organizing principle of Republican politics.
The most remarkable aspect of Jonathan Martin’s look at the “ideology and age” divide in the GOP is that it doesn’t ever address any current Republican governors as potential candidates, or even mention the possibility of others outside the Beltway as competition. That’s where it goes awry; Martin assumes that Huckabee and Bush will have more gravitas as leaders than Paul or Cruz as the Democrats move out of the Barack Obama era and those fights become moot. But the leading Democrat contender for the nomination is Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and her biggest potential threat at the moment is progressive populist Elizabeth Warren, who wants to amplify the Obama agenda for the succeeding four years. (In fact, Martin never even mentions Senator Marco Rubio, a Beltway figure who is more likely to stage a serious run than either Paul or Cruz.)
The real divide of this primary will be the governors of today vs the figures of the Bush-era GOP, with a dash of Beltway status tossed in for good effect. Huckabee and Bush (and maybe Kasich and Pence, if they can’t help it) will suffer in that comparison to Walker, Bobby Jindal, Susana Martinez, Nikki Haley, and perhaps even figures like Rick Snyder and Chris Christie, although they’re not necessarily known for their passionate embrace of subsidiarity. Rubio, Paul, and Cruz will also appeal to the forward-looking sensibilities of voters rather than a dose of the same old thing, especially one whose name is Bush, however fair that may or may not be.
I disagree with John on one point, though. We have plenty of time to determine who will be the best alternative to the blasts from the past, and we should not settle on any one candidate. Let’s make them work for it for a while first.