The Conversation

The GOP Establishment Tries to Shoot Down Their Own Rising Stars

It's reasonable enough to express a preference for having a governor as the Republican presidential candidate in 2016, given the general difficulty of launching such a campaign from Congress.  Senator Barack Obama did it, of course, but it would be unwise to assume his success rewrote the rules for everyone else, especially since no Republican will ever be able to get away with playing hooky from the Senate to crank up a White House campaign.  (The media would utterly savage such a candidate for ignoring his congressional duties, duly trotting out anyone from his home state they can find to complain about feeling under-represented.  Also, the rules for the political class of Illinois are, shall we say, a bit looser than they are for most other states.)

Still, the way Republican establishment figures go about kneecapping the trio of senators who figure prominently in 2016 primary speculation - Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio - in The Hill is a bit aggravating, as it demonstrates a classic case of GOP Tin Ear Syndrome:

Those senators have created a buzz among conservative activists, but their colleagues in the upper chamber are eager to support a nominee from outside Washington with a record of attracting independents and centrist Democrats.

They worry that Washington has become so toxic that it could poison the chances of any nominee from Congress in 2016.

“I’m not saying people like Rand Paul and Rubio and Cruz — and there are probably 10 other senators who think they could be president — shouldn’t be president. I’m just saying I want to elect somebody, and everybody is so anti-Washington now that it might be better to have somebody that’s outside of Washington,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), one of the upper chamber’s most senior Republicans.

Grassley said his views could change after the midterm elections, but he also noted that Congress’s approval rating now stands at 13 percent.

“But I wonder if it’s even 13 because I went around Iowa to 14 counties during Easter and I didn’t find one person who approved of Congress,” he said.

The problem is that Senator Grassley, and others quoted in The Hill, are implicitly agreeing with the proposition that Congress is unpopular because of their party.  I don't think they get how much damage that does to their brand.  It's the sort of mistake Democrats are usually much better about avoiding.  I would point out to Sen. Grassley that Barack Obama did run as "somebody that's outside of Washington," and for that matter he still does.  We might all have a good laugh about that, but it worked during his campaigns, in large part because Democrats weren't rushing to the media to call him out as a risible poseur.  Obama's party is perfectly happy to let him pretend the sun rises every morning on his very first day inside the Beltway, because they know it damages their party brand to call shenanigans on him.

After mentioning that Senators Paul and Cruz have "made enemies quickly in the GOP establishment," which is the reason this article exists at all, The Hill provides another example of Republicans damaging their own brand by indulging in speculation that lines up perfectly with the narrative of their opponents:

Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) said Cruz became a hero among conservatives for making a stand against ObamaCare during last year’s government shutdown but that this might hurt him among swing voters in a general election.

“I’ve always said about Ted or whomever: Can you broaden the base? Can you appeal to that Republican or Democrat out there who says, ‘I want a president who can govern, who can start fixing the problems?’

“Whether it’s Ted or Marco or whoever, they have to be able to close the deal. They have to be able to make the case that, ‘I can do it — I can literally lead this government,’ ” he said.

When's the last time you heard Democrats musing that some of their most exciting young up-and-comers might have trouble reaching out to swing voters or broadening the base... an implicit concession that the candidates in question are extremists?  When's the last time you heard Democrats worry that prominent members of their party, seated anywhere in Washington, might have trouble governing or fixing problems?  I doubt you could get many of them on the record saying such things about a fringe kook like Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida, never mind the equivalent of Paul, Cruz, or Rubio, who have media stature and a real sense of excitement around them.

There are plenty of ways to speak in preference of a governor's executive experience without backhanding the rest of your party's talented rookie players right off the bench.  I think the important thing - the media discipline Democrats have generally mastered - is to always convey the impression that everyone with a shot at the nomination would be a fine candidate and excellent executive, before running through the reasons why you think governors make even more excellent candidates than senators.


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