Republican governors struggling in the GOP presidential contest are weighed down by their failure to fully rebuke Common Core education standards, according to the conservative think tank American Principles Project (APP).
Common Core, the set of education standards that were adopted by 46 states five years ago but have since become toxic with the conservative base, has not been at the center of the Republican primary debate, which has so far been dominated by national security and immigration.
However, APP and its education director Emmett McGroarty argue that the issue still animates grassroots conservatives, and that it has been a factor in several candidates – former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker – not getting a hearing from the base.
“As candidates drop down the polls and out of the presidential race, support for the Common Core national education standards has often become intertwined with their decline,” McGroarty wrote in background information provided exclusively to The Hill.
“Due to the Common Core’s deeper roots in an increasingly unpopular top-down ideology, a candidate’s acceptance or rejection of the Core now serves as a leading indicator for determining whether he or she will ultimately have a chance at the nomination,” he said.
Nearly the entirety of the Republican presidential field is opposed to Common Core.
However, some, like Bush, Kasich, Christie and Walker, had embraced the standards in the past. They’ve since argued that Common Core has been corrupted by a federal government hell-bent on imposing it on local school districts, where many conservatives believe the power should lie.
APP argues that it’s not enough for the governors to qualify their past support for Common Core, or to argue that it’s merely a set of higher standards that can act as an alternative to the status quo.
“If a candidate is not willing to protect voters and their families from inordinate federal control in education, they are unlikely to be trusted to maintain a system of checks and balances in any area,” McGroarty wrote.
APP has singled out the four GOP governors, all of whom received grades of “D” or “F” on the issue from APP’s advocacy arm American Principles in Action in an August report card, as evidence that Common Core has doomed or is damaging those who support Common Core or have advocated for it in the past.
Bush, Kasich and Christie are mired in single-digit polling, while Walker dropped out of the race in September.
Walker said on the campaign trail that he supports allowing districts to “opt out” of the education standards, but was criticized by some for not advocating for full repeal.
“Scott Walker is a prime example of how quickly an inconsistent stance on Common Core can kill a campaign,” McGroarty wrote.
After spending months atop the polls as the favorite to win the Iowa caucuses, Walker ended his campaign in August amid low polling numbers and spending woes.
“Walker’s departure from the race came after heavy criticism for his position on the fence, a spot that he claimed not just with words but with misleading action,” McGroarty said.
Many Republicans have long-believed that Bush’s past support for Common Core would present a major hurdle for him with the base.
Common Core standards were developed after Bush left the Florida governor's mansion, but he has advocated for the education standards through his foundation.
On the campaign trail, Bush has made his made his record on education reform a central selling point. He has sought to distance himself from Common Core, saying the federal government should play no role in the creation or implementation of education standards, and arguing that he supports higher standards no matter what form they come in.
But that’s spin used by Common Core supporters, McGroarty says.
He writes that Bush “has made only minimal attempts to make his rhetoric sound more anti-Core,” and points to a Bloomberg-Des Moines Register poll from earlier this year that found nearly two-thirds of likely caucus-goers in Iowa cited Common Core as either a deal-breaker or something they’d consider in deciding whether to vote for Bush.
“While he went out of his way at this year’s Iowa State Fair to label the term ‘Common Core’ as ‘poisonous,’ national polling as well as polling in Iowa indicates that such fake-outs will not be enough to divert the attention of voters,” he said.
McGroarty argued that Kasich and Christie, two candidates staking their campaigns on winning the New Hampshire primary, will continue to find it difficult to gain traction in a state where he says the issue is still “hotly contested.”
Kasich is the only Republican who outright defends his support for Common Core, saying it has a record of success in his home state and that he won’t bend on the matter just because it has become politically poisonous in conservative circles.
McGroarty notes that in New Hampshire earlier this year, Kasich sought to back away from the standards, saying that: “It’s time Washington stop micromanaging education…Yes, we need high standards, but the federal government shouldn’t set them or control them.”
“While it sounds like Kasich had a change of heart on Common Core, is he really any different from Walker and the ‘façade of authority’” that Wisconsin gives its school districts in determining standards?,” McGroarty writes. “As the record has shown, candidates who continue to propagate the falsehoods and weasel words surrounding Common Core, even while disowning the name, will not survive for long.”
Christie, meanwhile, has evolved on the issue. He once supported Common Core, but announced earlier this year he’d seek to pull New Jersey out. However, APP notes that Christie has said his state will continue administering a test that relies on Common Core principles.
“He’s not giving the parents their full due,” McGroarty said in a phone interview. “He’s not acknowledging that there’s a problem with what’s in front of children in the classroom. We’ll end up with no changes if Christie has his way. He won’t come down and fight on behalf of parents.”