Ghosts at the CPAC

Here are two grains of salt to take with the stories you are probably reading about those wonderful problem-solving, bipartisan-oriented Republican governors who have none of the pathologies of their representatives in Congress and are clearly the future of the GOP.

The first is that such stories never seem to mention the large number of Republican governors who don’t fit that description by any stretch of the imagination: e.g., Kansas’ Sam Brownback, Texas’ Rick Perry, Maine’s Paul LePage, South Carolina’s Nikki Haley, Mississippi’s Phil Bryant, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, Georgia’s Nathan Deal, and probably several others with whom I’m less familiar. A couple of others (John Kasich and Rick Scott) seem to have been elevated to Good Republican status because of the single act of accepting the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, which is to say they finally decided they couldn’t continue to look a gigantic gift horse in the mouth. It makes me particularly crazy when MSM types describe Jindal as some sort of non-ideological reformer, since best I can tell he wants the GOP to move even further to the right.

The second grain of salt is that in order to “lead” the GOP any Republican elected official has to be acceptable to its dominant conservative wing. So it’s worth mentioning that among the 41 speakers currently being confirmed for the 2013 CPAC conference next month, you do not find the health-care heretics Kasich and Scott, or the serial heretics Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie. It is interesting that McDonnell’s successor as Republican nominee for governor of Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli (who has been at odds with McDonnell on a host of issues lately), will be there with bells on.

Someone on the CPAC team has confirmed that Christie’s non-invitation was quite deliberate and unlikely to be rescinded. Since Christie could have undoubtedly been counted on to thrill a CPAC audience by bellowing about shiftless public employees and their pestiferous unions, this is clearly a statement that he’s outside the charmed circle of contemporary conservatism, presumably for his stab-in-the-back praise for the president during Sandy.

In any event, if you are looking for a problem-solving “pragmatic conservative” who is willing to work with Democrats, CPAC offers pretty slim pickins. There’s Jeb Bush, Kelly Ayotte, Artur Davis, Carly Fiorina and Mitch McConnell, if you think any of them qualify, cheek by jowl with Alan West, Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Ron Johnson, Pat Toomey, Wayne Lapierre, Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor, among others. There will be much howling at the moon, and maybe some “reform” talk–you know, of the sort Cruz and Jindal inspire, based on ethnically diverse howling at the moon, done more clearly and with better technology. That’s the ticket!

UPDATE: A case in point:

During President Barack Obama’s meeting with U.S. governors at the White House Monday, the president dismissed members of the press to hold a private, hourlong discussion with the visiting state executives. Whatever was said after the cameras left the room especially incensed South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley.

Haley went across the street to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce after the meeting, where she joined fellow Republican Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Scott Walker of Wisconsin in berating both Congress and the Obama administration for failing to agree to an alternative to the looming across-the-board federal budget cuts set to trigger March 1.

“I could not be more frustrated than I am right now,” Haley told reporters after the meeting. She said that when she asked Obama if he would consider a last-minute plan to shave about 2 percent from the annual federal budget without increasing taxes, the answer was “no.”

Obama didn’t adopt the long-time GOP position, so that’s as far as these birds are willing to go to pursue “bipartisanship” or “problem-solving.”

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.