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A.B. Stoddard: GOP in a mess for 2016

Democrats are busy changing the subject these days: to the minimum wage, climate change, income inequality, the 2016 presidential election — anything but ObamaCare. So you can imagine their excitement over the release of 25,000 pages of emails involving Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. 

Many long months before a midterm election and two years until primary contests begin, any Republican who is thinking of running or is thought of as running will be the subject of endless discussion by Democrats, who can pretty much lump candidates into two camps: the Christie wing, which they will label “corrupt,” or the Cruz wing, which they will label “crazy.”

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After the New Jersey governor, recently the Republican front-runner, found himself in a whole mess of trouble with a home-state scandal involving political retribution he still says he knew nothing about, Chris Christie is no longer the darling he was on the national stage. So all eyes turned to Walker, whom establishment types hoped could win his third statewide election this year to become a top contender in the 2016 line-up, running as a successful reformer from an Obama state. 

The honeymoon lasted only weeks before the news hit that Walker also had sullied himself in a political mess, which, if not illegal, is at least embarrassing. Dating back to when Walker was county executive and running for governor in 2010, two investigations have led to convictions for six former allies and staffers; emails reveal Walker not only knew of coordination between staff in his public county office and campaign staff but that he directed them to hold a daily conference call to facilitate it. 

Should the county executive investigation impair Walker’s path to a second term, in what promises to be a challenging campaign this year, his presidential hopes are over. And if Walker gets reelected, the story could still dog him in a run for the White House.

Nothing could delight Democrats more: the press release from the Democratic National Committee titled “Walker’s scandal vs. Christie’s scandal” stated: “The similarities are really striking: both administrations used taxpayer resources to play politics; there were cover-ups of wrongdoing; investigations are still swirling; and both governors have a lot of explaining to do. Walker’s scandal is more than four years in the making, and Christie’s began six months ago. All this time later, neither Governor can explain or justify conduct of their staff and allies.”

It isn’t promising that the GOP was pinning even early hope on two governors from blue states who can now be accused of the un-presidential act of — at best — being ignorant of the undertakings of their staff. In fact, it’s kind of a “mess,” which is the word numerous Republicans have used to describe the party’s current presidential line-up. Sure, Democrats are on the run right now in polling, and Republicans are poised not only to hold their majority in the House but to possibly take back control of the Senate as well. But as far as finding someone to run against Hillary Clinton in 2016 ... that’s a tough one.

The competent guys, Christie and Walker, who won over Democrats in their states and won national recognition for bold leadership and consensus building, aren’t looking so competent. The favorites of the Tea Party wing of the party, including Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), are far enough out of the mainstream of the Republican Party to be the “kooky” GOP poster boys of choice for Democrats.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s phone must be ringing off the hook again this week.

 

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.