So Much for the “Vanguard” of American Conservatism

Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker and Mitch Daniels were once the future of the Republican Party.

Republican governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 26, 2015
Republican governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 26, 2015 (Gage Skidmore)

Six years ago, citing Kimberley Strassel in The Wall Street Journal, I called America’s Republican governors the “vanguard” of a conservative reform movement.

What disappointments they have turned out to be.

Disappointments

  • Chris Christie cut runaway public spending in New Jersey and stared down the teachers’ unions to enact conservative reforms in education, but he turned out to be a crook and a stooge for Donald Trump. He left office with a 15-percent approval rating.
  • Bobby Jindal enacted educational reforms in Louisiana similar to Christie’s, but when conservative activists turned against Common Core, mistaking the state-sponsored standards for a federal powergrab, so did Jindal. He once urged Republicans to “stop being the stupid party,” but then, in 2016, turned into the very type of populist he once denounced.
  • Scott Walker ended collective bargaining for government workers in Wisconsin, but then suggested during his presidential run that this gave him the necessary experience to fight the Islamic State. He tried to please everyone and predictably ended up pleasing no one. Politico reports he could lose reelection in November.
  • Of the four governors I profiled, the only one who left office with a legacy of honesty and reform was Mitch Daniels. In Indiana, he turned a $200 million budget deficit into a $1.3 billion surplus, lowered taxes and made the state so attractive to business that it led the nation in private-sector job growth.

Rotten

The fact that Daniels decided against a presidential run, and that another experienced, soft-spoken former governor with a record of conservative reform — Jeb Bush — didn’t get far in the primaries suggests, as I wrote at the time, that something is rotten in the Republican Party.

This isn’t the place to go deeper into that. I recommend my story from March 2016, “End of the Road for America’s Republicans“.

But Jonathan Bernstein has summarized the problem well: Republicans have told their voters for years to trust in easy solutions and believe that the normal frustrations of politics are the product of villains, collaborators and fellow travelers.

Do that and villains, collaborators and fellow travelers is precisely what you end up with or become.