The government shutdown is giving Republican governors with White House ambitions a new opportunity to burnish their credentials as problem-solving outsiders armed with solutions to Washington’s dysfunction.
Govs. Chris Christie (N.J.), Scott Walker (Wis.), Bobby Jindal (La.) and Rick Perry (Texas) have all railed against the shutdown in recent days, touting a common-sense, get-it-done message that contrasts with the gridlock that has ensnarled Washington.
Perry, who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2012 and is weighing a 2016 bid, recently called an ObamaCare-related shutdown “nonsensical” and drew a sharp contrast between governors and members of Congress.
“One thing about governors [is] they have to perform, they have to deliver. We have timelines, and Washington, they talk a lot,” he told ABC News.
Their positioning highlights the wedge the shutdown is driving between two distinct groups of potential 2016 Republican contenders: those watching with disdain from the outside and those actively participating in the Capitol Hill drama.
Several recent polls show the public primarily blames Republicans in Washington for the government shutdown.
Overall congressional approval stands at 11 percent, according to Gallup, 1 point above the historic low. According to Public Policy Polling, Congress is less liked than cockroaches.
The polling portends danger for potential 2016 candidates Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), all of who supported efforts to tie defunding ObamaCare to funding of the government.
While Cruz, Paul and Rubio are casting themselves as lawmakers fighting the political establishment — and for conservative ideals — they face the danger of being inextricably tied to the Washington dysfunction that Americans hate.
Kevin Madden, a former adviser to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, said that governors are in a strong spot to run against Washington in 2016 because they are, quite literally, accomplishing things Washington is not.
“So many of these voters out there, they’re looking at Washington right now as a dysfunctional entity. They’re looking for folks that can sort of offer solutions or offer a vision for how to take the country in a different direction,” Madden said.
In the shutdown, the Republican governors sense opportunity.
Jindal, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, launched an unusually combative advertising campaign last week characterizing Republican governors as the engines of the “American comeback.”
The campaign is, ostensibly, a prelude to the upcoming gubernatorial races in 2014.
But the campaign’s first video featured five GOP governors who, at some point, have been rumored as potential presidential contenders.
“The hardest part of my job is Washington, D.C,” South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) said in the ad.
Jindal said the campaign is part of an effort to take back the GOP brand from Republicans in Washington, a not-so-subtle jab at Cruz, Paul and others who could use the Senate as a springboard to presidential campaigns.
“For too long for the Republican governors, we feel like we’ve outsourced our brand management to the Republicans in D.C. It’s time for us to stop doing that,” Jindal said, according to Slate.
“It’s time for us to take control of our own destiny. We want folks to know that when we’re talking about Republicans, it’s not just the dysfunction that’s happening in Washington, D.C., it’s the results that are happening in our state capitals.”
Walker, often mentioned as a 2016 contender, has already pushed back against the shutdown by defying Washington orders to close state parks that receive federal funding.
The Wisconsin governor, who endeared himself to conservatives with his fight against unions in his state, argues Washington needs to take a page from governors’ playbooks.
“The best way to resolve [a shutdown]? Just look at what we did in Wisconsin. We had a $3.6 billion budget deficit. We now have more than half a billion surplus,” Walker told The Associated Press.
Phil Cox, executive director of the Republican Governors Association, said that Republican governors have a simple advantage: They can do what Washington can’t.
“It’s clear that Washington, D.C., is broken, and Republican governors are getting results,” he told The Hill.
“They’re taking conservative ideas and putting them into action in their states. They’re showing true leadership. They’re bringing Democrats and Republicans together.”
Christie, who described the shutdown as a “failure” of leadership, has used the crisis to tout his record for getting things done in a blue state.
“My approach would be, as the executive, is to call in the leaders of the Congress, the legislature, whatever you’re dealing with and say that we’re not leaving this room until we fix this problem. Because I’m the boss; I’m in charge.”
Rob Johnson, an adviser to Perry, said a government shutdown would never happen in states because “governors roll up their sleeves, pass budgets and make government work.”
“When everyone’s acting like schoolchildren on the playground, instead of sitting down at the table and doing what taxpayers elected you to do, it’s just absurd. Americans are fed up,” he added.