One of the longest-running memes in American politics is the idea that “moderate” or “problem-solving” Republican governors are going to save the GOP from its wacko birds in Washington. It’s a big part of the hot air lifting Chris Christie’s bulky trial balloon as a 2016 presidential nominee. And it’s a common strategy of denial for those who don’t want to admit the Elephant Party has been drifting steadily (though in the last five years more rapidly) rightwards for decades.
As MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin points out today, there’s a lot of very recent evidence that service in a state capital no longer (if it ever did) insulates potential GOP presidential candidates from Washington-based right-wing litmus tests:
2012 presidential primary voters were largely unwilling to let their candidates, especially ones like Romney with a moderate past, stay out of what was happening on Congress. Early on, Romney and his fellow nominess were more or less forced to endorse Paul Ryan’s budget, which Democrats were eager to tie around the nominee. The one major dissenter, Newt Gingrich, was forced to backtrack almost immediately amid a fierce response from the right. Similarly, during the 2011 debt ceiling debate, Romney and the rest of the field decisively pledged not to raise tax revenue, even if Democrats offered 10 dollars in spending cuts for every dollar in taxes.
Beyond that, the idea that GOP governors are inherently “moderate” needs to be retired. Is Scott Walker “moderate” in any meaningful sense? How’s about Rick Perry, Nikki Haley, Bobby Jindal, Paul LePage, Phil Bryant, Pat McCrory, Tom Corbett and Rick Scott? And historically, the meme is just plain off. Going into 2012 Mitt Romney had just completed a 2008 nomination campaign as the favorite of the conservative movement. The previous GOP governor to win a presidential nomination, George W. Bush, was also the universal conservative movement choice going into 2000. And before that, there was Ronald Reagan. Meanwhile, the closest thing Republicans have had to actual “moderate” nominees were senators John McCain and Bob Dole, and former Congressman George H.W. Bush.
Christie (and certainly not Scott Walker) isn’t going to save the GOP from itself. And here’s one more important data point: most Republicans don’t want to be saved from themselves, either, unless it’s by deception and hype.