I used to think Republicans needed to run either a governor or a senator as our next presidential nominee, but after studying the electoral history, I’ve decided that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is right—it’s gotta’ be a governor.
Or at least it does in 2016, given that the senatorial map is much more favorable to Democrats in 2016 than in 2014, and that Republicans’ likelihood of keeping the Senate (assuming they grab it in 2014) skyrockets if Republican senatorial candidates are able to run on the coattails of a strong Republican presidential candidate.
And consider the following facts about strong presidential candidates:
Forty percent of all presidential winners in U.S. history have been former or current governors, including Jefferson, Monroe, and Tyler (Virginia), Van Buren, Cleveland, and both Roosevelts (New York), Polk and Andrew Johnson (Tennessee), Hayes and McKinley (Ohio), Wilson (New Jersey), Coolidge (Massachusetts), Carter (Georgia), Reagan (California), Clinton (Arkansas), and George W. Bush (Texas). A similar percentage—thirty-seven percent—have been former or current senators.
But twenty-one percent of all winners ran for president while sitting governors. In contrast, only three winners—seven percent of the total—ran while senators, including Harding, Kennedy, and Obama.
If you count only elections after 1854, the year the Republican Party formed, thirty-one percent of winners were sitting governors, compared to only ten percent who were sitting senators.
So we’ve elected as president former or current governors from New York, Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Georgia, California, Arkansas, and Texas. If we’re trying to repeat history, Christie (New Jersey) and Rick Perry (Texas)
In an intriguing analysis, Patrick J. Egan recently identified Republican governors John Kasich (Ohio), Bill Haslam (Tennessee), Robert Bentley (Alabama), Brian Sandoval (New Mexico), and Dennis Daugaard (South Dakota) as having higher-than-expected support in the polls in their current reelection bids, controlling for statewide factors such as party control of the legislature and percentage of voters who usually choose the Republican presidential candidate. Egan suggested that these governors’ higher-than-predicted popularity margins make them especially strong potential candidates in a general election.
A few Republican governors have been getting presidential buzz—Christie, Rick Perry (Texas), Scott Walker (Wisconsin)—but most haven’t, including Rick Scott (Florida), Mike Pence (Indiana), Bobby Jindal (Louisiana), Susana Martinez (New Mexico), Nikki Haley (South Carolina), Sean Parnell (Alaska), Rick Snyder (Michigan), Jan Brewer (Arizona), Nathan Deal (Georgia), and a dozen others I haven’t mentioned.
Why aren’t more of these governors household names, at least among Republicans? Do we want to learn something from electoral history and win the 2016 presidential election or don’t we?
I’ve argued that the executive branch may be a more natural fit for the Republican Party, and less suitable for Democrats, because governors have more “actual responsibilities” such as balancing budgets, making unpopular decisions without being able to hide behind 99 weasels or vote “Present,” and fighting sleazy opposition party opponents who file baseless accusations that risk embarrassing entire states. This suggests that the best route to the presidency for Republicans is through governorships.
The directive that we choose a governor as our 2016 nominee does rule out some fantastic Senatorial candidates—such as Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Mike Lee. But let’s save these politicians—each just 43 years old—and others in the adolescent stage of their careers for an election in which the Senate map is favorable to Republicans again, or at least until these candidates have served as governor.
And just because Christie is on the warpath demanding a gubernatorial nominee doesn’t mean he’s the one we should pick. I’d be equally happy with Walker, Perry, or former Governor Mitt Romney.
Radio host Mark Levin, willfully misinterpreting Christie’s remarks (as usual), recently cited the counterexample of Abraham Lincoln, one of only three presidents whose highest elected office attained was U.S. Representative. But clearly Lincoln is an exception that proves the rule. (And remember that only three sitting senators have ever been elected president.) Nominating a sure-thing liberal Republican rather than taking a chance on a viable conservative candidate would be a betrayal of principles. But why can’t we aim for a conservative and someone with governing experience?
If we acknowledge which high-profile office is most commonly held by those elected president, then the first stage of our 2016 nomination process is clear: We’ve got to choose a Chief Executive as our next nominee for Chief Executive.
- Election 2014 predictions: The Governors (commdiginews.com)
- New study grades nation’s governors on fiscal policy (humanevents.com)
- How Does Your Governor Rank According to the Nation’s Top Libertarian Group? (theblaze.com)
- Governors to watch for 2016 and beyond: What the polls tell us (washingtonpost.com)
- Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant receives passing grade on fiscal policy (watchdog.org)