The ink was barely dry on Scott Walker’s ballots in his third statewide win in four years when Chuck Todd asked him about his pledge to serve out four more years. That’s understandable; everyone assumes the two-term Governor of Wisconsin has national aspirations, and his invitation to Meet the Press was not offered to discuss Badger State water policy, after all. Walker didn’t give much away about his own plans, of course, but he offered the GOP some advice on 2016 that may well be self-serving eventually:
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is staying tight-lipped about his plans for 2016, but said on Sunday that a governor like himself would have a better chance of beating Hillary Clinton than a member of Congress.
“Overall, I believe governors make much better candidates than members of Congress,” Walker said in an interview with “Meet the Press.” …
Walker said the GOP will have to campaign on an outside-the-Beltway approach.
He pointed to the 31 Republican governors nationwide who could offer “a much better alternative from the old, tired, top-down approach in Washington.”
“We need something fresh, organic, from the bottom-up, and that’s what you get in the states.”
Self-serving or not, it’s still good advice. The driving force on both sides of the aisle the past few cycles has been populism — progressive populism for Democrats, conservative populism for the GOP in the form of the Tea Party. Both want a clean sweep of Washington, and both have gone after their own incumbents to get it. Putting up a Beltway candidate would fly in the face of that trend, especially anyone who has any actual legislative accomplishments on their resumé, since the only way to achieve those will be to work across the aisle. These days, with the grassroots on both sides (but more so for the Right), that makes you an establishment figure. Just ask Marco Rubio how it worked out on immigration reform, for instance.
In order to find someone with solid achievement on their record, especially reform, both parties will have to look to the states. Hillary Clinton could have been an exception had her only claim to legitimacy had been at State — and had the foreign policy of that era not been exposed as entirely feckless and incompetent. (Reset buttons are no more a resumé enhancer than Tuzla dashes, after all.) Hillary’s main claim to the nomination is that her family will have been in and around Washington for almost a quarter-century by the time the election rolls around. She has no executive experience other than State, which is a record she’ll be dodging rather than lauding, and making nostalgia and novelty (the first woman President!) the centerpieces of her campaign. Instead of being about the voters, Hillary’s campaign will be about herself.
Democrats don’t have many options outside of the Beltway, though. Progressives want Elizabeth Warren to run, but she’s also a first-term Senator who won a relatively close race in exceedingly-safe Massachusetts. Martin O’Malley looked like a good alternative until Maryland voters decisively sent his hand-picked successor packing, electing just the second GOP governor since Spiro Agnew in one of the bluest states in the country. John Hickenlooper might have had presidential aspirations, but just barely survived in Colorado on Tuesday. John Kitzhaber is a train wreck in Oregon, Jerry Brown is way too old in California, and Andrew Cuomo has too much baggage in New York.
Republicans have a lot more bench talent out in the states, many of whom have solid track records on reform. Walker certainly qualifies, as does Rick Snyder in Michigan, and Bobby Jindal in Louisiana. Mike Pence and John Kasich have Washington experience along with their gubernatorial CVs, although both have some skeptics among the grassroots. If Republicans want diversity, they can look to Susana Martinez in New Mexico or Nikki Haley in South Carolina, or even Brian Sandoval in Nevada, although his pro-choice position would probably scotch any presidential aspirations — and he seems to be salivating over the prospect of taking on Harry Reid in 2016.
On top of that, Obama’s disastrous and incompetent tenure practically makes the argument without debate over the need for executive experience in governance before taking on the presidency. This is why the gubernatorial ranks have traditionally been the farm clubs for both parties. Mark Levin disagrees in part, but only to the extent that gubernatorial experience alone qualifies one for President:
The point is that Republican governors are going to have to do much better than expect all of us to accept their self-serving definition of presidential qualifications; they’re actually going to have to tell us how their records justify us promoting them to the presidency, as will all other candidates. And I don’t care what political office they’ve held. If they’ve supported big-spending and big-government, and reject the constraints of constitutional government, they’re not qualified by any measure.
True — and one can deduce from that how Levin would judge a Kasich primary campaign, for instance. The implicit recognition in this argument, though, is that a candidate needs a record that shows how they will perform in office, as opposed to campaigning or operating in the legislative minority. Talk is cheap. Look at Obama and “hope and change,” for an object lesson on that point. If voters want a record of actual achievement, the ranks of the governors may not be the only place to look, but there won’t be many other options.